Posted by Jason O on Mar 31, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs
A solid, entertaining thriller.
I’m reminded occasionally that there is a whole other watchable world of TV and Film out there, and “Black Book“, a Dutch World War Two thriller by Paul Verhoeven (he of “Robocop” fame) is one of those movies. It’s a good, solid entertaining movie strengthened by the fact that it’s in Dutch (it’s about the Dutch Resistance) and populated by a Dutch and German cast almost entirely unknown to me which added to its authenticity in a way that the latest Tom Cruise vehicle would struggle to do. After all, did anyone really buy Cruise as a German officer in “Valkyrie”?
The performance by Carice Van Houten in the lead, in a cast full of competition, marks out a young actress who deserves a bigger audience, and the 1940s soundtrack is toe tappingly good.
Watching it, I found myself getting annoyed that European cinema does not make more movies like this. It’s Hollywood quality, and appeals to a mass market, and yet aside from Verhoeven and Luc Besson, you’d be hard pressed to find many European movie makers producing films that Europeans will choose to watch in cinemas when competing against US blockbusters. I’ve never understood this. We have the talent, the actors, and a continent which is probably the most impressive film set in human history. Where are our thrillers reflecting our values, about French and German agents abseiling down the side of the Eiffel Tower to stop a bunch of Christian fundamentalist nutters? There’s another thing I’ll have to put on the to-do list.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 30, 2010 in Irish Politics
Whilst reading UK Tory blogger Iain Dale’s blog, he posed a question from a pub quiz he was at: Who is more left wing? FF or FG? The funny thing is, even a simple question like that will cause ructions amongst Irish political hacks. I genuinely don’t know the answer, even socially or economically.
I do know that some hack will say “Neither. Left-Right politics doesn’t apply in Ireland because blah blah blah” but that just is not true. FF and FG are essentially conservative status quo parties, who support the minimum amount of change required to keep things the way they are, but are opposed to radical change, a position held, I suspect, by most Irish people. Basically they are old style Disraelite Tory parties. So they are both on the moderate right. But which one is more right wing than the other? FG is more right wing on neutrality (without ever, in government, ever doing anything about it), but then FF made blasphemy a criminal offence. So, in short, buggered if I know.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 29, 2010 in Not quite serious.
Diagnosis Murder: Killing the planet?
Progress was made at UN headquarters, New York, yesterday, when the organisation’s members agreed to a treaty to reduce the number of episodes of Dick Van Dyke’s medical murder series “Diagnosis Murder”, phasing it out over a ten year period.
Addressing the assembly, Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon pointed out a fact previously known only to afternoon television viewers, that there are in fact four episodes of the gentle drama for every man woman and child on the planet. He also confirmed that production of the series, which also star’s Van Dyke’s son Barry as detective Steve Sloan, son of the show’s star, Dr. Mark Sloan, produces over 9% of total global energy emissions.
For years, conspiracy theorists have suggested on internet websites and elsewhere that a primary cause of the invasion of Iraq was the need to secure oil to produce the series.
UN sources have applauded the action, and compared it to the action taken following UN resolution 1687, which demanded an immediate end to the production of “Murder, She Wrote” This resolution was implemented in dramatic fashion only last year, when that show’s star, Angela Lansbury, was dramatically captured by a UN special forces team who stormed her secret underground facility. A large amount of weapons grade plutonium was also recovered, as was the missing US nuclear submarine, USS Tigerfish.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2010 in Not quite serious.
A number of western intelligence agencies have admitted that they have been responsible for the funding of long winded socialist ideology documents and conferences.
An unnamed CIA operative admitted yesterday: “We came to the conclusion very quickly that rather than attempt to break up the hard left organisations, it made more sense to actually fund every headbanger faction within them. To be quite honest, we’re amazed we’ve managed to get away with it this long. These guys spend far more time writing desperately long tracts denouncing each other as bourgeois middle class Kerenskyist sellouts then they ever do trying to over throw the free enterprise state. What is amazing is that they have never noticed. Some of them have spent their whole lives in far left politics, and it doesn’t seem to dawn on them that they have achieved absolutely nothing. If anything, the world is even more right wing now. Western free market democracy saved for the cost of a desktop publishing package and a half decent commercial printer. Not bad, eh?”
The security services hope to extend the tactic to the far right and Islamist organisations. An MI5 source remarked: ” Already, the BNP and the National Front are at each others throats, and we’ve got Sunni and Shia extremists issuing fatwas on each other like billio. Funny story: At a recent meeting of a key BNP committee we realised that every single member was an MI5 agent. How we laughed!”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 25, 2010 in British Politics
, Irish Politics
A little something I wrote for the Lib Dem Voice website a while back. Here.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 25, 2010 in Irish Politics
You can tell a lot about our political culture from the makeup of the cabinet. The Taoiseach, Dermot Ahern and Brian Lenihan are nominally lawyers, but have spent more time in politics than in practice. Martin, Hanafin, Dempsey, Killeen, and Carey were all teachers. O’Cuiv ran a co-op. Smith was a special advisor to John Wilson. Coughlan was a social worker. Nearly all of them spent little time in those jobs compared to their time in politics.
In other words, only two members of the cabinet have actual wide experience of running a private organisation that could A) actually go bust, and B) had to meet a payroll from generated income. John Gormley, who ran a private language school, and Eamonn Ryan, who ran a cycling holiday firm.
It’s not surprising, then, that Mary Hanafin thinks it’s normal to demand a law to keep a spare job open for her in teaching, just in case her current job does not work out. It’s all she, and most of the FF cabinet, know.
Amendment: Just a point that has been nagging me since I wrote this posting. I actually think that Mary Hanafin is one of the more competant members of the cabinet, and seemed to be really in charge of her brief at social welfare, which makes me regard her demotion (and it is a demotion) as odd. I still think she’s absolutely wrong on the teacher thing, all the same, but fair’s fair.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 23, 2010 in Irish Politics
Return of the Ranelagh One?
In November 1962 Richard Nixon’s political career was over. He had narrowly been defeated by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential Election, and had then gone on to be roundly beaten by Pat Brown in the race for Governor of California. Nixon, who had built a reputation as a hard-line and prickly rightwinger and bludgeoned his way in a mere 14 years from freshman congressman to his party’s nominee for president, was finished.
Six years later, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States. But that’s not the interesting thing. The Nixon elected in 1968 was not the same Nixon of ’62, but The New Nixon, a moderate middle of the road reformer who wanted to reunite the country after the divisions of the LBJ years, and had a plan to get the country out of Vietnam. He was a conservative, alright, but a small “c” conservative who wanted simple stability and law and order. That was the image, anyway, and it worked, to such a degree that Nixon was reelected in 1972 in a massive landslide.
I write all this having recently read an interview with Michael McDowell in the Sunday Indo, where he was pressed (and didn’t rule out) a return to political life. I worked with him on three campaigns, and I have always been amazed how his public persona is so different from his private one, or at least, his relaxed one. The curious thing is that Michael McDowell’s gut political instincts are closer to the mainstream of the silent working taxpaying majority than almost anyone else in his political generation. Yet one would struggle to find an Irish politician who had more difficulty in communicating those values to the people most likely to vote for, and gain from, those same values. He certainly didn’t help himself by bandying about ideological labels (socialist!) that mean nothing to so many Irish people. He also made the mistake, as John Gormley is also doing now, of assuming that the public will know and appreciate the good works one is doing in government. He failed to communicate in a digestible way the huge reforms he introduced in the prison service and oversight of the Gardai, and instead let his opponents brand him an extremist.
Could he return? Is there room for the New McDowell? It’s not impossible. People fail to realise that his well attended campaigns in Dublin South East were made up of people with a strong loyalty and indeed friendship towards him personally. If he can clearly identify a message, a set of values that the great private sector battlers who are too well off for welfare but not well enough to cheat on their taxes can identify with, the people who worry about paying the bills, he may yet.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2010 in Not quite serious.
, US Politics
Leaders of the GOP have pledged that if the party retakes the House and Senate in the November midterm elections, they will reverse the socialist Obamacare law. “It is an outrage that ordinary working Americans believe that they are entitled to the kind of state funded healthcare that Republican congressmen have received since medicare in the 1960s. Who do these people think they are? Lobbyists?” One Congressmen said yesterday.
“When we retake the Congress in November, the American people will be liberated from the filthy socialist healthcare that communists, Europeans and members of Congress think is normal. It is true that I, as a member of the Congress, must suffer the ignominy of subjecting myself to a state subsidised health system, but if that is the price I must pay so that I can tell my fellow Americans how bad it is, so be it. We must all make sacrifices.”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 21, 2010 in Irish Politics
Enda explains it all.
“My fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen: I stand before you today to ask you to elect me to the office of Taoiseach. As part of that, I would like to share with you some of the ideas I would like to pursue if you choose to elect me to that office.
Firstly, let us be clear. Under me, times will be hard. The cuts in public spending will continue, tax rises may also have to continue, and let no one be under any illusion about that. Across our country, many people have said that they do not mind sacrifice, but it must be fair, and that the better off should pay more. I agree with those principles, but I must also tell you the hard truth: The gap between the money we take in taxes and the money we spend on services is so great that ordinary people on modest incomes are going to carry the burden. Yes, the well off must pay their fair share, but taxing the well off in a punishing manner will not raise enough money on its own, and those who say it will are at best naive and at worse pursuing their own selfish agenda. We are all going to feel the pain, and as your Taoiseach I would like to begin a new phase in our political life by admitting to you that ugly, unpopular truth.
Many commentators have said that we must protect the vulnerable. This is a very decent statement to make, until we start to identify whom exactly are the vulnerable? It is at this point that every group in the country declares itself to be part of the vulnerable, and therefore should be exempt from hardship. Yet, when we add them all up, we get most of the people in the country which makes the exercise pointless. If I am elected Taoiseach, I will be paid well, and there is a reason for this. I will be expected to provide leadership, and make decisions, including decisions that will make me deeply unpopular. I will have to decide who gets what, and who goes without. In other words, who is the most vulnerable?
Well, here is my answer:
As Taoiseach, I will attempt, where money can be moved from one area to another, to protect the children of low income families, people with disabilities, and low income senior citizens. Everyone else will have to take up the extra burden. This is not a perfect solution, and there are many other groups who feel that they are equally deserving, but decisions must be made for the common good at the price of being popular. It was the refusal to make unpopular decisions by my predecessors which have us in the crisis we are now in. If you want to hold this office, you must be willing to make hard and unpopular choices. The Taoiseach is paid not to bask in the job but do it, and I will do it.
Fianna Fail is a party with a chequered history. It has delivered many good and progressive achievements to this country. But the fact is, the last time Fianna Fail were removed from office in a general election was 27 years ago, in November 1982. Fianna Fail is paralysed in office, lacking in imagination and exhausted by the burdens of office. When one looks at the reaction of Fianna Fail backbenchers to the reduction in junior minister numbers or scrapping of ministerial pensions, believing them to be entitlements regardless of the current economic hardship, it is quite apparent that Fianna Fail TDs are out of touch with the lives of most Irish people. For the good of our country, for a healthy democracy, and even for Fianna Fail itself, Fianna Fail must be removed from office.
There are some parties in the country that are reluctant to commit to removing Fianna Fail, and want an each way bet on the outcome of the general election. I can only speak for Fine Gael, and other parties must make up their own minds. Personally, I would like to see the Labour party and Fine Gael present the Irish people with a joint programme for government and also a joint front bench, led by Eamonn Gilmore and myself as equals. But let no one have any doubt: Fine Gael will campaign openly on a guarantee that it will not return Fianna Fail to office. We will openly attempt to recruit voters of other parties who share that wish, if their own parties are hesitant to commit to that goal. We will not hesitate to inform voters of the consequences of voting for another party and getting a Fianna Fail Taoiseach for free in return. If someone is campaigning with the possible intent of keeping Fianna Fail in office they are part of the problem, and I will say so. People are entitled to be able to vote for a clear break with the Fianna Fail past and I will give them that choice.
As I have said earlier, I cannot claim that by electing my party the pain will end. We are all, as a country, going to know hardship in the near future. The future will be about managing our limited resources in as effective a way as possible, and trying to minimise the pain in as fair a way as possible. But bear this in mind, and this is important because it goes to the heart of how I will run this country if elected to do so: A government led by me will place job creation and the creation of wealth in this country as a priority over spending money on public services, because we must create wealth first before we can tax it for public services. I will place the repairing of the public finances as the next priority. It is only when we have put in place a fund to create a buffer against a future drop in revenue will I permit for general public spending to increase again. If we had done this in the past, we would not have to implement the savage cutbacks now in place, and a government led by me is going to learn from the reckless and wasteful mistakes of the past in order to protect the future.
That is not to say that we must not try to shape the cutbacks to inflict as little pain as possible. As Taoiseach, I will set up an indedpendent Oireachtas Budget Office which will be available for use by all members regardless of party, and also by recognised lobby groups and social partners. Instead of just handing down cutbacks from above, we will announce future proposed cuts and allow members of the Oireachtas and the social partners, with their hands-on day-to-day experience the resources to suggest alternatives costed and verified by the Oireachtas Budget Office. In other words, everybody will have a fair say, but must put their money where their mouths are. It is not good enough to oppose something. You must bring your alternative to the table, and I as Taoiseach will make that possible.
Our political system has shown itself during this crisis to be in need of change to reflect the needs of our modern country. We have over 1000 elected public officials in this country, and yet public confidence in the effectiveness of our political system has been challenged. Do we need 226 members of the Oireachtas? Does our electoral system ensure that men and women of calibre are attracted into public life? Do we need 30 odd county councillors in every county powerlessly shaking their their fists at the county manager? Or should we have less politicians just talking but instead elected mayors with real power to run their counties free from Dublin interference? In other countries, talented experts are appointed ministers. Should we consider all these things? I believe so, and that is why I shall convene a constitutional convention of politicians and ordinary citizens chosen from the electoral register to meet and within 18 months present the Oireachtas with proposals for running the country with fewer but better elected public officals. These proposals will then be put to the people in a referendum.
I also intend utilising the right, as Taoiseach, to appoint people of talent to the Seanad and into the cabinet, and may amend the law to allow for the appointment of non-TDs as junior ministers. Ministerial office is not a reward, it is a duty, and I shall treat it accordingly. This country is full of talented people in business, the arts and the voluntary sectors put off by our current political system, but with skills and energy and experience to offer. I intend to ask those people to step up because their country needs them now.
Finally, it is my intention, within the first eight weeks of office, to pass two bills immediately. The first shall permit for the dismissal of the membership of every state board. There is no point the people voting out Fianna Fail in an election if Fianna Fail gets to remain in charge of every state body. These will be replaced by yes, supporters of the new government, but I also will pledge that at least 25% of every state board will be made up of ordinary citizens who will be invited to submit their CVs to an independent body which shall recommend suitable appointments. Your taxes pay for these state boards, and so you should have a right to sit on them.
Secondly, I shall pass a bill which will double the sitting time of Dail Eireann from the current 90 days to 180. The work is there, and it is time the Dail gets to it.
My fellow Irishmen and women, If we have learnt anything in the last 13 years it is that politicians promising great prizes without cost inevitably lead to disappointment. Things are going to be hard, and I cannot, indeed will not, promise you easy solutions, because there aren’t any. We are a nation of just over 4 million people being tossed around in a global storm of 6 billion, and the best we can do is stop the boat taking on water, and protect the sails for when the sea calms, as it will. In this election, you can do two things with a Fine Gael vote. One, you can punish Fianna Fail for failing to save some of the huge tax revenues of the Celtic Tiger for the hard times. They say that they could not have known, but I’m sorry Taoiseach, for 300 grand a year you should have at least known that the rainy day always comes eventually.
Secondly, with a Fine Gael vote you will get a fresh government of talented people eager to look at new ways of doing things, people who see being in government as an honour, not a right.
Times are tough, but we’re going to get through this. I hope you can join me.”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 19, 2010 in Irish Politics
We must increase, not reduce voter choice.
There seems to be a sort of consensus threatening to emerge over the idea that we may get, alongside PR-STV in the constituencies, some form of list system. This is to be welcomed, provided that it meets certain criteria:
1. That it be a National list. A regional list system, based on, say, euro constituncies, will defeat the purpose, in that we’ll just have deputies running around their super constituencies. Even with a national list, we’ll still have deputies trying to build a local base somewhere in the country. That’s the nature of the Irish political beast. The difference is that if it is a national list then voters can pick individual candidates based on something other than “he’s from my parish.”
2. That it be an Open list. It’s no use just letting parties publish their candidates and say “Just tick yay or nay to the whole package.” That defeats the purpose, which is to improve voter choice. By all means, allow voters to tick a box if they wish to vote for a particular party list, but they must also have a choice to vote for individual candidates. Voters should have more than one vote (I would say 5 votes of equal value) to allow them to take advantage of the wide choice of candidates available. What’ll be interesting is that unlike in the UK, where leftwingers anywhere could vote for say, Tony Benn, under such a system, many existing Irish deputies, who have little going for them other than the area they are from, will struggle under such a system. They won’t have a broad issue base to appeal wider, whereas more policy orientated candidates will have a wider appeal. Colm O’Gorman on child protection issues, or Michael O’Leary appealing to businessmen acrosss the country, for example. This is how (hopefully) we’ll bring new people into the system.
3. There must be at least 30 seats. This is to keep the quota low, and allow small parties and independent candidates get elected. it will also allow non-Dublin candidates get elected.
4. Quotas for men and women. Each party should by law be required to ensure 40% of their list be made up of each sex, and that they be listed alternately male/female. If FF and FG are saying that they cannot find 15 competant women in their respective parties, they’re telling us a lot about their parties.
This can work, and can transform to a certain degree, although, as Trinity’s Elaine Byrne has pointed out, the culture has to change too. My own feeling is that both the political culture and the electoral system effect each other, and that this is a worthy first step.