An enforced absence over the Christmas period, my Internet access hampered by the near impossibility to get free wi-fi in Dublin (and any wi-fi there is is prehistorically slow and temperamental). A stupid technical error on my part prevented me from being able to use dial-up on my laptop so a large number of posts, that might otherwise have been effected, such as a review of the years' films, have had to be either shelved or deferred. Some of them should appear in some form over the next week.
And so I missed the demises of James Brown, self-effacing Turkmen dictator Saparmurad Niyazov (who, with regard to the prevalence of his image everywhere in the country, on everything from vodka bottles to statues, said 'it embarrasses me seeing my image everywhere but that's what the people want') and, of course Saddam Hussein. The latter I will shed no tears for but it is interesting reading a statement by US Lieutenant-General William Caldwell, who insists that the US had no part in his execution. Well, he would, wouldn't he? Sounds like the words of an earlier occupying functionary in the region, Pontius Pilate. Not that I would dare to impute Christ-like status to Saddam. But the good people of Chile might be rueing the fact that they did not succeed in extraditing their own homegrown, and recently departed, despot Augusto Pinochet, to the new democratic Iraq, where the justice, and execution thereof has proven to be refreshingly summary and swift.
Slovenia, meanwhile, became the thirteenth country to adopt the Euro as its currency; when I was there last August, prices everywhere were already being displayed everywhere in both Tolars and Euros, a piece of organisation and economic transparency to shame bigger, more illustrious countries further to the west. Slovenia is cast-iron proof that countries with a communist past need not be free-market whores for global capital or economic basketcases riven by corruption and the shoring-up of the same vested interests as prevailed under the hammer and sickle. Two other former communist countries, Bulgaria and Romania, have joined the EU and the huge influx of migrant workers predicted by the British right-wing media has failed to materialise, mainly because the Romanians and Bulgarians are more attracted by the culture and lifestyle of southern European countries. Like the fat, sweaty homophobe that is convinced that every gay man he comes into contact with wants his botty, this rejection, for the Daily Mail et al must be devastating.
And, last but not least, Irish yesterday became the 23rd official language of the EU, albeit on a second-tier level, comparable to Catalan (a minority langauge that numbers more native speakers than either Danish, Norwegian or Finnish) or Basque. After the brouahaha of a couple of years back of Gaeilgeoirí campaigning for the elevation of Irish to official-language status, the news has been largely unreported in Ireland. I have to say I have a pragmatic stance on this issue: there is no need for Irish to be an official language and its being one is not going to do anything for the promotion for the language, which I fully support. It is typical of the Irish's fondness for pride in symbols without investing any real effort in turning those talisman into a thing of tangible cultural worth. Irish should remain a compulsory language at school (anything that makes a nation of spoilt brats miserable can only be a good thing in my book) but it should benefit from a more practical pedagogical agenda with its cultural importance emphasised. Some of the newer Gaelscoileanna are doing their best in this respect but they are still stymied by Department of Education guidelines (a body so ill-equipped to instruct in the teaching of the Irish language that its Irish name is the grammatically incorrect An Roinn Oideachais rather than Roinn an Oideachais). I could suggest that Dorothy Parker's quip that 'you can lead a horse to culture but you can't make it think' might be particularly pertinent to modern Ireland, but that might be a bit mean.
A Happy New Year to all.