The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'ireland'
Yesterday, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum on repealing its near-total ban on abortion. The referendum had been many years in planning: other similar referenda had failed in the past, and most infamously, one in 1983 had enshrined, in the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution, the rights of a fertilised embryo as being equal to its mother. There was, of course, a lot of discontentment with such an illiberal state of affairs, but the death in 2012 of Savita Halappanava, a 31-year-old woman who died in agony after being denied an abortion even when her pregnancy was no longer viable, was probably what gave this push its momentum. A referendum was announced, and the campaigns started in earnest. Ireland does not allow absentee voting (otherwise its huge diaspora might sway domestic affairs from abroad), so Irish citizens from as far as Australia and Argentina made their ways back to vote. Religious-Right groups in the US sent shiny-faced volunteers with 100-watt smiles to push the No vote. Google and Facebook clamped down on Cambridge Analytica-style targeted ads, with varying reports of effectiveness.
In the run-up to the vote, all the signs pointed to a victory for the Yes campaign, to end the abortion ban. Though, as the vote loomed, the polls tightened, with some suggesting a narrow victory for Yes, with a large number of undecided voters holding sway. There was talk of large numbers of “shy Nos”, people who believed the abortion of fertilised embryos to be murder but not wishing to state this out loud and be seen as reactionary barbarians. Some said that a surprise No triumph would be Ireland's equivalent of Brexit or Trump, a chance for a silent majority of conservative left-behinds to flip the table and savour the tears of the metropolitan-liberal-elites who, until then, had believed themselves to be presiding over inevitable progress. And, of course, the possibility of the vote being swayed by the reactionary international's dark arts: ghost funding making a mockery of electoral laws, psychographically targeted ads, supposedly autonomous campaigns coördinated with military precision. Would change come, or would it be deferred for another generation? And even if Yes scraped through a narrow victory, that would give conservative legislators the cover to nobble the resulting legislation to the point of ineffectuality.
It turned out one need not have worried: the Yes case has been carried by roughly a ⅔ majority. The first exit poll gave Yes 68% of the vote; the count, with 29 of 40 constituencies declared is within a narrow margin of this. No has conceded the referendum (though of course not the divinely-mandated principle behind their position), and it looks like the 8th amendment will be repealed and laws governing the provision of abortion services, along similar criteria to elsewhere in Europe, will be passed.
(Someone I know once jested, “I'm Irish. I can do anything—except have an abortion.” It looks like she will now have to retire that line.)
This is a major shift, or rather, a sign of a major shift that had been happening for some time now. Ireland having emphatically legalised same-sex marriage a few years ago was another sign of this. The Irish republic that arose after independence, when Catholic nationalists consolidated their power—a dour, authoritarian, priest-ridden backwater, a country that condemned its unmarried mothers to penal institutions, and in which the all-powerful church vetoed the formation of a British-style national health service because secular institutions alleviating the people's misery sounded like Communism—has not existed for some time, replaced by a modern, secular nation, and only now is the extent of the transformation becoming undeniably apparent. And if there were any shy voters, it was not the mythical Silent Majority of reactionary conservatives hankering for the certainties of the good old days, but those remembering all the suffering and misery imposed by laws that have stripped women of autonomy over their bodies, many only realising after the vote that they were in the majority, not just in the entirety of Ireland but even in their own, supposedly conservative, rural province. (And the disappearance of the expected strong rural No vote, counterbalancing liberal Dublin and Cork and pushing the result to a cliffhanger, is one of the stories of the day; while final results are not in yet, exit polls have No with a majority—and a slender one—in only one of the 40 constituencies.) One big take-away may be that the myth we have been conditioned to accept, of the silent majority of public opinion inevitably being viciously reactionary, is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.
The immediate consequences—Ireland's infamously restrictive abortion laws being brought into line with the liberal secular world—are fairly straightforward. What remains to be seen are the secondary effects. The most obvious one will be pressure on Northern Ireland's own draconian abortion laws. Northern Ireland, whilst a province of the UK, is run as a hard-line Protestant sectarian state, established out of fear of the hard-line Catholic sectarian state across the border. Now that that state visibly no longer exists, it will be harder to maintain it as a special case increasingly divergent from both the Republic and the rest of the UK. The evaporating power of Catholic sectarianism in the Republic may also make the formerly unthinkable—reunification—less so (especially when the alternative, reconciling Hard Brexit with the Good Friday Agreement, appears to be logically impossible). Whether the result carries beyond Ireland is another question: they're talking about legalising abortion in New South Wales now. And while a No victory would have emboldened anti-abortion activists in other countries, it's not clear whether Ireland having voted Yes will have much impact in, say, Poland or Hungary, where proudly illiberal Catholic hypernationalism is on the march.
Beyond reproductive rights, the result may be another milestone on a trading of places, culturally and economically, between Ireland and England. As Britain (though, in reality, largely England-minus-London), led by its xenophobic tabloids, voted to cut itself off from Europe, to expel foreigners and become less liberal, both individuals and businesses have been scoping out locations abroad. (You can't find office space for love or money in Frankfurt these days, and Berlin's gentrification has been accelerated by a flood of Brefugees with MacBooks.) Ireland has been cited by many as a more open alternative to the UK, though there has been a perception that it is both smaller and more parochial. The Irish electorate's recent decisions are likely to put paid to the second objection: the first may last a little longer, but if one remembers what low esteem, say, dining in Britain was held in a few decades ago, or the sleepy, bureaucracy-ridden nature of doing business there, it may not take long for Dublin to displace London altogether.
As of Friday morning, all hell has broken loose in the UK.
As nobody predicted*, the British voting public voted to leave the EU, 52% to 48%. Well, the English and Welsh voting public, mostly; Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain. Immediately, things started going tits-up. The pound cratered, experiencing its largest drop in value since the Major government's withdrawal from the European exchange rate mechanism. Meanwhile, Google reported a surge in searches for “what is the EU” and “what happens if we leave the EU”, and the media began filling with reports of sheepish voters saying that they voted Leave because they expected Remain to win and just wanted to show their anger at the political class. Meanwhile, as soon as the result was safely in, the anti-EU politicians who backed the Leave campaign started to walk back their promises. There would be no £350 million for the NHS, no sudden end to the rights of foreigners to breathe our precious British air, no abolition of the VAT on power bills. Cornwall, which voted strongly to leave, nervously demanded reassurance that the hefty EU funding it gets would be replaced, pound for pound, from all the money not being sent to the garlic-eating crooks in Brussels; the silence with which its inquiries were answered must have done little to reassure it. A petition to have a second referendum (which, it turns out ironically, had been started before the result by a Leave supporter wanting to keep his anti-EU crusade alive in the event of a defeat) has, to date, received three and a half million signatures; this figure is still climbing.
The only people who did well out of this were the far right, who found themselves legitimised and emboldened. No longer was xenophobia something to deny, or tenuously rationalise, but a natural part of the order of Man; loathing and disgust for those unlike ourselves are nothing to be ashamed of, the message said, but perfectly natural and normal; indeed, perhaps it's those who don't feel visceral revulsion of the Other that are abnormal or sick. The far right and various bigots lost no time in taking this lesson to heart and intimidating foreign-looking people; all over Britain, Polish families found threatening letters in their letterboxes, a community centre was vandalised, and dark-skinned people found themselves being told by strangers (who, presumably, lacked the intellectual nous to know that they were probably not EU passport holders) that they're next. Even Laurie Penny, the (white, London-born) cyber-Rosa Luxembourg of this age, was told to go home by a man wearing a St. George's flag as a cape, because she looked like an art student, and thus wasn't, in his opinion, really English. I must say that, to an Australian, all this sounds uncomfortably familiar, right down to the wearing of flags as capes and/or markers of belligerent idiocy. (Incidentally, Penny's analysis of Brexit is well worth reading.)
Having realised that they had set the country on a course for economic, if not political, devastation, politicians in Westminster started to panic. A defeated David Cameron resigned tearfully, undoubtedly freighted with the complicatedly mixed feelings that he'd no longer be remembered primarily for having sexually interfered with a pig's head, but for something far, far worse. In doing so, he stated that it would not be him but his successor on whom the responsibility for pushing down the detonator and starting Britain's irrevocable exit from the EU would fall. All the obvious candidates in the Conservative Party hastily demurred; now now, they said, there's no need to be hasty. Britain had climbed out onto the ledge and announced its intention to jump, but upon seeing the distance to the hard ground below, was having second thoughts. This wasn't good enough for EU officials, who insisted that Britain had chosen to jump, and must now jump quickly, before the uncertainty upsets their markets (and also, so that the big gory splat serves as a warning to their own domestic Euro-refuseniks, now agitating for the chance to leave), and if it doesn't, they'll consult with lawyers to see if they can give it a helpful push.
Meanwhile, in staunchly pro-EU Scotland and Northern Ireland, things started to get interesting. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time, announcing that legislation for a second Scottish independence referendum was being drawn up, and that EU consuls would be invited to a summit in Edinburgh within two weeks to discuss ways of keeping Scotland in the EU. There was also the possibility that Scotland and Northern Ireland's legislatures may be able to veto the process of secession; this is disputed by some constitutional experts, though given the labyrinthine complexity of Britain's constitution (which is actually a collection of many documents), it may inject some doubt into the equation, or at least compel Whitehall to let Scotland have its referendum and leave. (After the last Scottish referendum, the issue was declared resolved for all time; theoretically, if Whitehall forbade a second referendum and the Scottish government went ahead with it, those involved could possibly be charged with treason. Much as the rebels of the Irish Easter Rising, a hundred years ago, were; that, of course, didn't end well for the unity of the Kingdom.)
So the pound is tanking, financial companies based in London (who comprise a big part of Britain's economy) are scoping out office space in Frankfurt and Dublin, and our elected leaders are falling on their swords, knifing each other in the back, or playing hot-potato with a live grenade, whilst those who pulled the pin out wonder whether it would be possible to, somehow, find it and put it back in; meanwhile, neo-Nazis are using this as official sanction to attack anyone they regard as not belonging. Welcome to Britain, 2016.
Oh, and in the time it took to write this article, an additional 18,000 or so people have signed the petition.
* YouGov came closest to predicting it, but got the sides the other way around, predicting a 52% win for Remain.
The other big news this weekend, of course, Ireland voting in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. The margin (62%) was decisive enough, even without taking into account the fact that only one of Ireland's 43 parliamentary constituencies reported a majority against. The case is pretty much settled; even senior Catholic clergy have conceded that history was on the side of the change.
This result shows how much has changed in Ireland over the past few decades, and in particular, how much the influence of the Catholic Church, which once controlled all aspects of life in the republic, has waned. It has only been 22 years since homosexuality itself stopped being a crime in Ireland, and a decade or so longer since divorce became legal. Of course, the Church Holy Roman and Apostolic's influence still weighs heavily in one conspicuous area: abortion remains strictly illegal in Ireland, with several referenda in the past decades failing to reverse this. It is, to say the least, not at all clear that this would be repeated in any future referendum. (On the other hand, the experience in the US has shown that it is possible for a liberalisation in gay rights to occur alongside a rolling back of womens' reproductive rights, so legalised abortion in Ireland is by no means inevitable.)
The decision's impact will spread beyond the Irish Republic; calls for reform in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is illegal, are likely to be strengthened (though still face an uphill battle, with the conservative Democratic Unionist Party coming increasingly under evangelical Protestant influence. Considerably further afield, Australia is another place where this may have an impact. Australians famously like their politicians to be more conservative and moralistic than they themselves are, which has been reflected, as recently as a few years ago, in both major parties being against same-sex marriage. The vein of religious conservatism that animates this opposition, meanwhile, stems largely from Irish Catholic conservatism (the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is an conservative Catholic whose political views stem largely from the ultra-conservative, Democratic Labor Party, which emerged when the Catholic elements in the ALP left, citing creeping Communist influence in the party); while it is possible that Australia will remain as a sort of Galapagos of the Irish Catholic Right circa 1950, preserving this otherwise extinct culture in the way that a 19th-century dialect of English remains alive on the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, the fall of the Old Sod to secular modernity could have an effect.
Actor Gabriel Byrne talks about the 1950s Ireland he grew up in, and in which a new BBC crime series he stars in is set:
Both Byrne and Banville, who are old friends, grew up in this Ireland of the 1950s. "It was almost a Taliban-esque society," says the actor, recalling an incident when his mother, who was walking down the street with him while pushing a pram, stepped off the pavement into the road to make way for a priest. "That's how much power they had. Now all the rocks have been lifted and all the maggots have crawled out. The Catholic Church is a tyrannical, evil institution, there's no doubt about it – anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-love, anti-condom, totally elitist."The series, Quirke, is to air on the BBC “later this autumn”, and looks like it could be interesting.
As the G8 prepare to meet in economically depressed Northern Ireland, the UK government hosts have been touching up the area, by covering the windows of the area's many empty shops with large photographic stickers of thriving businesses:
One set of stickers have been fixed to a former butchers in Belcoo, on the border between the province and the Republic. They show the shop – which traded as Flanagan’s until it went out of business about a year ago – still fully stocked with a selection of fresh meat on display. A sticker pasted on a closed door even shows an open door and an apparently well-adorned interior. Another set of stickers have been put up in the windows of a former pharmacy in the village, to give the vacant site the appearance of an office supply stores.Perhaps if the Soviet Union and its satellites had had large-format photographic sticker technology, the Berlin Wall would never have fallen, and Marxism-Leninism would still be shambling on, joyless but just about alive, much like George Osborne's austerity plan is.
Meanwhile, the US Secret Service has reportedly deployed agents disguised as Irish farmers; they purchased a fleet of shiny new tractors, but apparently neglected to make them look less conspicuously new:
However, locals told the paper the agents would “stick out like sore thumbs” in Fermanagh, as their tractors are all brand new. It’s “like something out of Father Ted”, one resident said.Surely there'd be someone in the US Secret Service who could apply convincing amounts of dirt, rust and general wear to tractors to not compromise the whole point of having bought them in the first place?
Vanity Fair has a long but interesting article about the Irish financial crisis:
reland’s financial disaster shared some things with Iceland’s. It was created by the sort of men who ignore their wives’ suggestions that maybe they should stop and ask for directions, for instance. But while Icelandic males used foreign money to conquer foreign places—trophy companies in Britain, chunks of Scandinavia—the Irish male used foreign money to conquer Ireland. Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another. An Irish economist named Morgan Kelly, whose estimates of Irish bank losses have been the most prescient, made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that puts the losses of all Irish banks at roughly 106 billion euros. (Think $10 trillion.) At the rate money currently flows into the Irish treasury, Irish bank losses alone would absorb every penny of Irish taxes for at least the next three years.
Yet when I arrived, in early November 2010, Irish politics had a frozen-in-time quality to it. In Iceland, the business-friendly conservative party had been quickly tossed out of power, and the women booted the alpha males out of the banks and government. (Iceland’s new prime minister is a lesbian.) In Greece the business-friendly conservative party was also given the heave-ho, and the new government is attempting to create a sense of collective purpose, or at any rate persuade the citizens to quit cheating on their taxes. (The new Greek prime minister is not merely upstanding, but barely Greek.) Ireland was the first European country to watch its entire banking system fail, and yet its business-friendly conservative party, Fianna Fáil (pronounced “Feena Foil”), would remain in office into 2011. There’s been no Tea Party movement, no Glenn Beck, no serious protests of any kind. The most obvious change in the country’s politics has been the role played by foreigners. The Irish government and Irish banks are crawling with American investment bankers and Australian management consultants and faceless Euro-officials, referred to inside the Department of Finance simply as “the Germans.” Walk the streets at night and, through restaurant windows, you see important-looking men in suits, dining alone, studying important-looking papers. In some new and strange way Dublin is now an occupied city: Hanoi, circa 1950. “The problem with Ireland is that you’re not allowed to work with Irish people anymore,” I was told by an Irish property developer, who was finding it difficult to escape the hundreds of millions of euros in debt he owed.
A few months after the spell was broken, the short-term parking-lot attendants at Dublin Airport noticed that their daily take had fallen. The lot appeared full; they couldn’t understand it. Then they noticed the cars never changed. They phoned the Dublin police, who in turn traced the cars to Polish construction workers, who had bought them with money borrowed from Irish banks. The migrant workers had ditched the cars and gone home. Rumor has it that a few months later the Bank of Ireland sent three collectors to Poland to see what they could get back, but they had no luck. The Poles were untraceable: but for their cars in the short-term parking lot, they might never have existed.
One possible silver lining on the cloud of Ireland's economic woes: numerous pop-up art spaces are opening up in vacant properties in Dublin. Could the Irish capital become a Berlin-style hub of spontaneous creativity?
Dublin railway staff used CCTV footage and Twitter to locate the owners of a cat that had wandered onto a suburban train and disembarked in the city centre. The cat, who is named Lilou and commenced her journey at Malahide station (in the suburbs of Dublin) was issued with an electronic smart card to use should she wish to make any future journeys.
Lilou is by no means the first non-human public transport user on record, or even the first feline one.
As of Friday, it is illegal to insult religious beliefs in Ireland; this applies to any religion, which is the fiercely Catholic nation's token sop to pluralism. While secularists are dismayed, other religious groups are overjoyed; apparently, Islamic states are already using the Irish law as a template for a United Nations blasphemy law.
A group named Atheist Ireland (
God help them best of luck to them; they need it) are taking on this law and challenging the government to prosecute them by publishing 25 blasphemous quotations, with authors varying from Jesus Christ to Monty Python, from known troublemakers like Dawkins and Hitchens to Holy Men like the current Pope (quoted slagging off Islam, mind you),
13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”
15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”
23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”Atheist Ireland and their allies have a number of other campaigns on their site, including a campaign for a secular Irish constitution.
So that was Eurovision 2007. A bit of a surprise; the Serbian entry which won it seemed rather lacklustre compared to some of the others, but romped home in the voting, presumably due to Serbia being located in a geographical/demographical sweet spot. Interestingly enough, Eastern Europe dominated the voting, with the highest-scoring western-European nation being well in the bottom half of the rankings.
There were a few highlights: Georgia's entry started off as a traditional torch song by a woman in a red dress, but then morphed into eurodance, and then the dancers whipped out swords and started dancing about, Cossack-fashion, with a wild glint in their eyes. France eschewed the usual white-gowned piano balladeer in favour of a troupe of Dadaist mimes in Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, highlighting the ridiculous side of Gallic culture. (Fat lot of good it did them, they ended up something like third-last. I guess it's back to the chanteuse and pianist next year.) Romania's entry was a bit like France's on a budget; five blokes dressed like the habitués of a slightly unsavoury tavern, singing "I love you" in every language on earth. The music was vaguely gypsyish, and sped up dramatically towards the end. Neighbouring Bulgaria's started off like Dead Can Dance with extra percussion, and then went electro. And, of course, there was Ukraine's entry, with its sequined, uniformed drag queen, looking like Elton John crossed with Austin Powers. It had camp and kitsch in spades, and raised a few questions. What, for example, was the significance of them counting in German, and did they really sing "I want to see Russia goodbye", and if so, how did that make it past the vetting process?
The lowlight was probably Ireland's entry, which was pure, unadulterated Celtic kitsch of the most obvious variety, and quite deserving of its final position at the bottom of the board. This year, though, nobody got a nul points, and they limped home with 3 points or somesuch. Britain did a bit better, largely thanks to Malta giving them 12, though their song was stuck firmly in the mid-1990s. And the teeth on that stewardess were frightening; granted, Scooch, as uninspired as they may be, were a lot less cringeworthy than last year's entrant (a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a teenage hip-hop street thug, surrounded by dancing "schoolgirls" who, apparently, were borrowed by Turkey this year). And I'd have to give a dishonourable mention to Russia, whose entry was a piece of soullessly machine-extruded commercial pop, trading on sex appeal (sample lyric from the three immaculately coifed girls doing the singing: "put a cherry on my cake and taste my cherry pie"; ooh-err!) lacking any of the madness or wrongness that makes for an interesting Eurovision entry.
The other competitors: Belarus (incidentally, the last remaining state with a KGB) had black-clad female dancers scaling walls like assassins and John Barry-esque strings over its power ballad. The full might of the Swedish culture industry was unleashed in the form of 1970s glam rock attired in monochromatic retro cool. Latvia's entry was in Italian, and like a low-rent version of The Divs. Germany had a bloke named Roger Cicero (son of Herr und Frau Cicero, I presume) doing a Sinatra-lite swing number, in German. Armenia's entrant seemed to follow, stylistically, in the footsteps of that other great Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour, only with an overwroughtly woeful and somewhat strained ballad. And Turkey's entrant was a short, hirsute man wearing a red jacket and a broad grin, surrounded by belly dancers Terry Wogan persisted in pointing out were British. Presumably giving the United Kingdom something to be proud of even should they have ended up with nul points.
While some speculated that Lordi's astounding triumph last year (reprised in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque opening video) would have opened the door for a flood of hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, this did not entirely come to pass. Finland followed up their win with a new genre, which could be dubbed, Tolkienesquely, MOR-Goth, consisting of torch songs with emo-esque lyrics and plenty of black clothing and gothic makeup. The other main Lordi-influenced act was Moldova, whose song sounded like the sort of alternative-rock song that ended up on Hollywood action-film soundtracks in the late 1990s; all minor-key strings, crunchy metal power chords and drum loops.
The promotional videos played before the musical numbers were done quite well, executed as whimsical stories featuring elements of Finnish culture. Some of the odder ones featured a goth riding a rollercoaster, hackers coding computer demos at the Assembly festival, a heavy-metal festival full of corpsepainted teenagers, a troupe of clowns giving an athlete an instant makeover so he could enter a restaurant, a twattish-looking bloke in DJ headphones playing the pipes at the Sibelius monument, and Santa Claus playing chess with one of the Moomins. Oh, and lots of mobile phones (Nokia, of course); the Finns, it seems, use them at the dinner table, and even propose marriage with the help of their cameraphones. Other than mobile phones, heavy metal appears to be a big part of the Finnish national identity; other than the promos, there was the entertainment during the vote-counting break, which featured the heavy-metal string quartet Apocalyptica, as well as acrobats.
Last but not least, one has to mention the astonishing phenomenon that is Krisse, the somewhat frightening-looking young woman with the pink puffer jacket and big ponytails plucked from the audience to interview competitors, stumbling through questions and going on about herself (sample question: "on a scale of 9 to 10, how beautiful am I?"). For some reason, she reminded me of Leoncie.
According to a quality-of-life survey by the Economist magazine, Ireland is the world's most livable country:
The Economist said: "Ireland wins because it successfully combines the most desirable elements of the new, such as low unemployment and political liberties, with the preservation of certain cosy elements of the old, such as stable family and community life."Ireland is followed by Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg and Sweden. Australia is at #6, one place ahead of Iceland and the only non-European country in the top 10; the US is at #13, whereas the UK languishes at the bottom of the pre-expansion EU at #29, a few notches below fellow laggards France and Germany:
The researchers said although the UK achieved high income per head, it had high levels of social and family breakdown.At the very bottom of the list is Zimbabwe; I'm guessing North Korea and Iraq weren't included.
The Irish government has threatened to search all US aircraft landing on its airports after a manacled military prisoner was found on one such flight from Kuwait. This comes in the wake of the "extraordinary rendition" row. Of course, were this to happen, the US could just shift its refuelling to Britain; even if the British government were to do the same (which is unlikely, at least on Blair's watch), British police might not have the jurisdiction to search aircraft landing at US bases.
Meanwhile, new testimony about Howard Hughes' secret night flights to visit a prostitute with a diamond in her tooth looks set to reopen a lawsuit from a former petrol station attendant who claims that Hughes left him US$156M in his will.
Ireland's entry is fairly boring; just a well-coiffed gent in a suit singing banalities about every song being a cry for love or something. Bland and inoffensive and guaranteed to be impossible to laugh at, and thus to be easily forgotten.
And Sweden's entry follows the national tradition of sounding like ABBA. This year, they're ripping off "The Winner Takes It All". The singer has a Christian symbol inscribed on her bicep in black texta and scarily white teeth. I am told that she won Eurovision for Sweden in 1991, and then ended up joining some kind of Christian sect. That makes two representatives of fringe religious groups so far.
The Irish city of Limerick is at risk of losing its city status, thanks to a population census coniciding with a rugby game, expected to take as many 20,000 of the city's 54,000 burghers to Dublin for the night. The threshold for a place to be considered a city is 50,000.
The Discovery Channel's St. Patrick's Day edition on how stereotypically "Irish" names aren't:
Many popular male first names commonly thought of as being Irish, such as Patrick, Mick and Sean, actually originated with the English and the French-Danish-Norwegian Normans, who invaded Ireland in the 12th century and led to radical changes in the way Irish families named their children, according to a new study.
"Archetypal Irish names in Irish America, such as Patty and Mick, really are more a product of the Roman Catholic Renaissance (which occurred well after the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1167 A.D.). The clergy tried to wipe out traditional Irish names by replacing them with Biblical names."
Canonical laws in Ireland for many years prevented the baptism of children unless the chosen name was that of a saint. Girls often took on variations of the name Mary. At the same time, harsh penal laws from the 16th to the 19th century further weakened traditional Gaelic/Celtic culture.
At around the time of the invasion, popular Irish male first names included Diarmaid, Donnchadh, Cormac, Cathal, Niall, Brian, and Aodh (also spelled Áed). Female first names tended to vary more often, in part because women did not pass down the family's surname.Apparently traditional names have been reemerging since the 19th century. (Which I can believe; whereas I have yet to meet any Irishmen named Paddy, Mick or Sean, I have met an Oisin and an Íarla.)
The "metrosexual" phenomenon may be some 2,300 years older than thought; studies of two male mummified bodies discovered in an Irish peat bog have shown that one wore elaborate nail polish, and the other wore hair gel, imported from France or Northern Spain (which, presumably, was a centre of the cosmetics industry even back then).
"Clonycavan Man's hair style was swept upward on top of his head, perhaps to add a few inches to his height. The hair was held in place by a type of 'hair gel' which was composed of a mixture of pine resin and vegetable oil," Bog Bodies Project coordinator Isabella Mulhall told Discovery News.
His extremely well manicured nails indicate he also was a wealthy man, untroubled by manual labour.Both men had been murdered, after being tortured. Nobody is sure why, but some speculated that they may have been executed criminals or human sacrifices. Or perhaps someone didn't like their fancy looks?
IRA members stab a bloke to death in Belfast, intimidate witnesses and institute a cover-up. Mass public outcry ensues, with calls for the killers to be brought to justice. The IRA issues an announcement offering to have them shot. Looks like someone's missing the point here.
A few facts about St. Patrick:
- He wasn't Irish, he was Roman.
- There never were any snakes in Ireland.
- "Driving the snakes out of Ireland" is a euphemism for leading the slaughter of the indigenous Celtic pagans.
Now, tomorrow I'll be wearing green to celebrate the arrival of spring, and surely I'll raise a pint or two of Guiness in honor of the Emerald Isle. But an Irish person celebrating "St. Patrick's Day" is as absurd as a Mexican celebrating "Cortez Day."
A thought-provoking rant about the commodification of St. Patrick's Day, and the tendency of everybody from British royals to Hollywood celebrities to ordinary people wanting an excuse to get blotto to assert their newly-contrived Irishness. An Irishness which has been reduced into a "concept", a "feeling", or a sanitised, Disneyfied lifestyle package for mass consumption.
Anyone can become Irish today. You can show our Irishness by going to the right pub, having the right attitude, by ticking a box on a census form - but not by getting drunk, fighting, shouting 'Fuck the Queen', or any of the other activities you might traditionally have associated with being Irish, which are especially frowned upon by fake Irish pubs like O'Neill's (no relation).
Is plastic-shamrock cod-Irishness, as some speculated, the one acceptable way in which white people can claim a funky, rootsy tribal identity; one with enough? (via Plastic)