Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catholic Atheist

More on the Census - not surprisingly every religion in the State saw a rise in its numbers in the past four years, mainly due to immigration from Eastern Europe and Africa, which helped the numbers of Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians and Muslims increase. Even the tiny Jewish community swelled a little, by 140 to 1,930. Interestingly there are places on the census for 'atheist', 'agnostic' and - a sure sign of maturity for Ireland - 'no religion'. Last census there were 500 atheists in Ireland - I wonder do Irish atheists call themselves the '500 club' because of this? This year there are 929 godless folk in the Republic. I can't remember what I designated myself as in the 2002 Census (I left for France just a month or so after it) - it might have been atheist, but if I wasn't feeling too bolshy on the night I might just have put down Catholic anyway. It reminds me of my mother's experiences of teaching religion to the Catholic students at Sligo Grammar School - when students were asked what their religion was so as to be allotted the correct 'Christian Doctrine' class, a claim of being an atheist would be met by the Principal telling them 'look, you're either a Catholic atheist, or a Protestant atheist.'

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cúpla Focail ag Móráin Daoine

I have been perusing the reports from last year's Census, just published yesterday (yes, I am that type of person), and apart from the remarkable rise in foreign nationals living in Ireland (up to 10% of the population and probably higher than the amount that actually replied) the thing that has most intrigued me is the perennial question of how many Irish speakers there are in the country. In the past I have heard figures of 500,000 bandied about, which always seemed suspiciously high, particularly given that people I have shared houses with during previous censuses have ticked the 'able to speak Irish' box with very little to back up the claim.

This year, it appears the number of people able to speak Irish is a whopping 1,656,790, or roughly 40% of the population (and interestingly, women appear to be a good deal more likely than men to speak it). The population of Wales, then, and just a little short of that of Slovenia. Which makes you wonder why more people are not exercising this ability on a more regular basis, and why we do not hear more of the language on the streets of our towns and cities and in pubs and bars. When one examines the various other tables however, a different picture emerges, such as the one that tells us that 53,471 people speak it on a daily basis outside the educational system, which is a figure slightly lower than the number of Irish speakers living in the Gaeltacht (62,959) but a credible one nonetheless. Not surprisingly the figures of people who speak Irish increase as the frequency is reduced.

So, it confirms the suspicion that Irish people back home are as likely to claim proficiency in the ancestral tongue as those living abroad are. It is usually an uncostly and easy way of showing that one is different from folks in Manchester or Massachusetts. Seanachie is able to hold his own in the language, as clicking on one of the tags below this post will confirm. So I will point the finger, as it is tiring for people to be paying, well, lip service to Irish, claiming it as a petty badge of cultural difference, while making no effort to learn or speak it. Manchán Magan discovered the real hostility that persists among Irish people towards the language when he tried to get by speaking nothing but it for a Guardian article a couple of months back. The loss of the language over the past two hundred years was engineered by a peasantry aspiring to the petit bourgeoisie; now its loss has rendered much of the country, in a paradoxical way, simultaneously loquacious and inarticulate. Reminding an Irish person of their inability to speak Irish is an opening of a sore, akin to disparaging a man's sexual proficiency. But then that's probably something that would be distorted just a wee bit if it were ever to be included in the Census.

Nordie Pride

More plaudits for Northern Ireland after their 2-1 win against Sweden, which leaves them top of a group they were seeded sixth in. David Healy scored both goals, bringing his total for the qualifiers so far to nine, the top scorer overall. For a team that went two years without scoring a single goal at international level before Lawrie Sanchez took over, this is phenomenal.

Of course there are many Irish people north and south that will refuse to follow the Northern Irish side, identifying it with bigoted elements tied to Linfield and Portadown, but this is unfair to a side that, unlike Rangers, has never excluded players on the basis of their religion. I may always support the Republic when they play the North - and were Steve Staunton's stumbling outfit to face them now, that would be no different - and neither would I have any qualms about the FAI poaching Sanchez to replace Staunton, but the North for me are a suitable back-up option to support. The position they are in at the moment, having taken seven points off Spain, Sweden and Denmark is amazing considering they count only one Premiership player among their number, and they were missing him the other night.

And, yes, I would love to see an All-Ireland football team but this is unlikely to happen because, unlike rugby, cricket and hockey (and Gaelic sports too) football is a true mirror of society. The reason there is not an All-Ireland team in football is because the working classes on all of the island play it, and regrettably they are not ready to all get along with one another just yet. Until that happens I hope that both Irelands qualify for the finals and I will support the North if they do, provided we avoid one another. Lawrie Sanchez started his managerial career over ten years ago at Sligo Rovers and we have fond memories of his brief reign, bringing us to an FAI Cup semi-final (as holders) and finishing fifth in the league. When he left he had the decency to recommend his mate Steve Cotteril - now in charge at Burnley - who had Rovers playing some of the best football ever seen at the Showgrounds, brought us to the League Cup final (where we were beaten on penalties by Shels in a thriller), finished third in the league and drew 3-3 with Champions' League semi-finalists Nantes in the Inter-Toto Cup. Sanchez, like Cotteril, is an astute reader of the game and a capable manager who had the benefit of starting with a realistic challenge in League of Ireland football, unlike poor old Steve Staunton. It is amazing that people up north were calling for Sanchez's head as recently as September.

No Shit, Bob...

Robert Gates, the Bush administration's clean-up man at the Pentagon said yesterday that Congress must find ways of closing down the US Military Prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying that the military trials of the detainees lack credibility because they have been tainted by the harsh treatment over the past four years. We might be tempted to be cynical and suggest that Mr Gates is pressing the ejector seat at the opportune moment for Bush's long-discredited regime. But he is, after all, only voicing what anyone with half a brain has thought since the camp first opened.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Nicolas Sarkozy Show - Live from Gare du Nord

If I were still living on rue Lafayette, right beside Gare du Nord, as I was a year ago, I would probably have been caught up in these riots that took place during the evening rush hour in the station the other day. Above is a brief glimpse of the action - of rather poor quality, admittedly - captured on a camera-phone by a 20-year-old from Cergy (think Milton Keynes crossed with Ballymun). Anthony C. has since claimed to have been threatened by an anonymous phone call from the police, though it is difficult to hear what is being said on the recording of the message in question on his DailyMotion page. In an interview with Le Monde Anthony insists that everything got out of hand with looting and the like after an initial expression of outrage by bystanders over the heavy-handed treatment of a fare-dodger by the police. There are plenty of dodgy youngsters hanging around Gare du Nord every day looking for trouble - and some reports claim that the fare-dodger was violent towards the ticket inspectors - but you have to ask: how on earth can arresting someone for fare evasion on the Metro result in a pitched battle involving 200 rioters? After the violent raid outside a nursery school, which I alluded to the other day, and the suspiciously well-timed capture of the fugitive Cesare Battisti in Brazil, one thinks that the outgoing Minister for the Interior is exercising a PR machine in a somewhat unorthodox way prior to the elections.

Three Points, at the End of the Day

Seanachie, Underachievement's very own Junior Dunphy, is not overly pleased with the Ireland performance at Croker last night though he won't be sending the result back to the kitchen for being undercooked. The first half display was sprightly, if a bit disjointed and it was good to see Duff finally recovering his old form. For much of the second half however there was far too much possession surrendered to a very ordinary Slovakian team and at times it looked as if we were playing in Bratislava, rather than on the Clonliffe Road. The final three minutes of injury time were also unnerving, which, in a home game against opposition such as Slovakia, should not be the case.

But we won, and when Stephen Hunt was introduced midway through the second period he brought a new liveliness to the team. Like Duff, who played down the left in the first half he was kicked at every opportunity, a strange tactic for the Slovaks given their serial haplessness defending set-pieces. Hunt's reading teammates Kevin Doyle and Shane Long were also impressive and a bit more composure from Long would have seen him seal the game from Hunt's magnificent cross. We now have no competitive games left until we travel to Bratislava in September, and, though Stan is still not to be trusted with this team, we are in the strangely serene position of being able to qualify. The Czechs are there for the taking and the Welsh may even do us a favour in Cardiff in June.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Croke Park's a Big Place...

I know it's base and mean to continually pick on the poor old FAI (and ill-advised, as I might yet be looking for tickets for the September games in Bratislava and Prague) but they offer a fresh perspective on the behind-the-scenes confusion prevailing in the Ireland camp. In a soft news item on Damien Duff from today's RSS feeds, we are told the following:

Irrespective of where the Dubliner operates from tonight, he will have a critical part to play, according to manager Stephen Staunton.

So, Stan himself doesn't really know where on the park the Duffer's going to end up? All you have to do is give him a ball and a yard of grass...

US to Attack Iran on Good Friday?

A link just sent to me by a friend back home: according to retired Russian Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the US intends to bomb Iran in early April, on the 6th - Good Friday - to be precise. It is also expected that Congress will not be consulted on the attack due to pressure - according to Novosti, the Russian News and Information Society - from AIPAC, the US lobbying group for the Israeli far-right. The links are in French; there are English-language pages on the Novosti website but I haven't been able to find the stories in question there.

A Missing Friend

My friend Alan Templeton went missing four months ago this week; I have avoided mentioning his disappearance here thus far because I didn't think this was the place to speculate on why he went missing or on what might have happened to him while his family has been going through a terrible ordeal trying to locate him. Like his sister Kirsten, brother Callum and his parents Douglas and Elizabeth, I believe that Alan is still with us and there have been reported sightings of him in the past couple of months in both Aberdeen and Edinburgh, from where he went missing. He left a friend's flat on the 25th of November last without his wallet and passport and there has been no contact from him since.

I knew Alan for a couple of years in Paris - he was working in Stolly's when I arrived back here two years ago. He lived here for two years and I last saw him on the football field the weekend before he moved back to Edinburgh in early October, about six weeks before he went missing. A few people, myself included, knew that he had been depressed here, though we were nonetheless taken aback by his disappearance. It appears that he had been taking anti-depressants while in Paris and stopped taking them when he returned to Edinburgh.

Despite his depression - and the mood swings that often accompany such an affliction - Alan is a laugh, one of the funniest people I know, and a man with an ineffable ability to engineer a joke out of thin air. Early one morning a couple of summers back Alan managed to persuade the entire staff and clientele of a Parisian café to vacate the premises and give the place a Marie Celeste air to freak out a friend of ours when he returned from the toilet. Shortly afterwards the two of them, seeing the door of a refrigerated van open, stepped inside for no reason other than for a childish prank. Unfortunately their timing was awry and they promptly got locked in by the driver. Their efforts to get his attention resulted in them being greeted by the pointed guns of a police SWAT team, summoned by the panicked driver. There was also the humorous anecdote related to me by Alan about when he bought a ticket to see the only film on that morning in the Denfert repertory cinema, having arrived just as it was starting. The film was called Cendrillon and he knew nothing about it; he was surprised to see that he was one of the few audience members over six years old (and at 6'4" tall, he was a bit self-conscious about this), when the credits rolled, he realised he was going to watch Walt Disney's Cinderella dubbed into French. Ever the cinéphile, Alan stayed to watch the whole thing.

Alan's friends and family have set up a MySpace page in an attempt to alert people to his disappearance, particularly in Scotland and France, and Wales, where he went to college at the University of Aberystwyth. Though few people reading this will be from any of those places, please do pass the link on to anyone you know from there that might live there. It might help. We all miss Alan and would dearly like to see him again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

For Former Fascist Dictators Please Press One...

Portugal is the latest country to hold a TV straw-poll for its greatest national of all time, and the Portuguese plumped for former fascist dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who had a 36-year innings ruling the Lusitanian republic with an iron fist (though he was somehow persuaded for the last two years of his life, following a stroke, that he was still ruling the country from his bed). 160,000 viewers took part and, according to The Guardian, the old fascist took 41% of the vote though, as one comment on their blog puts it 'this only shows that Portuguese fascists love to make phone calls to stupid TV shows.. Eurovision is coming folks ;)'. Couldn't have put it better myself. Oh, for the glory days of Portugal. Salazar's ideological rival, Communist leader, Alvaro Cunhal, came second while third was the more middle-of-the-road diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a sort of Portuguese Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, who directed thousands of German Jews to safety via Portugal, against the orders of Salazar himself. I suppose that this poll doesn't really show anything at all, then. Except maybe that fascists have better telecommunication packages.

Watch Your House for Ireland

RTÉ reports that house-buying intentions are at a ten-year low in Ireland, according to a poll conducted by ESRI. No real surprise there and it is not really the crisis in the housing market that many Jeremiahs will claim it to be. But it is mildly amusing to see so many Irish people to be moved to think the same thing as myself. I wonder will this make conversations about property prices more or less ubiquitous among Irish people?

Les Présidentielles 2007

I have posted very little on either the French Presidential election or the Irish General one, both of which are going to be held in the next two months. The reason for this reticence is not lack of interest (or knowledge either) but simply because there is no shortage of other people doing so. With regard to the French Présidentielles I was surprised to read in Libération last week that the country is gripped with an unprecedented election fever. I can admit that good stretches of the country lie beyond my purview (and that most of the people I socialise with, both French and otherwise, are firmly on the Left), but I having followed the electoral campaign closely in the French media, it does not strike me as fervid as your average election in an English-speaking country would be, especially given the way that Nicolas Sarkozy, in particular, polarises people. True, it is less of a sluggish campaign than was the case five years ago, when Jean-Marie Le Pen sneaked into the second round, as the left-wing vote split into many parts. But, apart from a few of my students, who have let slip that they are going to vote for the free-marketeer, touch-on-immigration Sarkozy, there has been little talk among people on the election itself. Out of politesse no doubt but curious nonetheless.

While the lefty in me hopes that Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate faute d'une meilleure, takes the Elysées Palace, this is looking increasingly unlikely, as she has failed to crawl back enough ground from Sarkozy in the opinion polls. Many on the left, dismayed at Royal's perceived incompetence, intend to vote for 'centrist' François Bayrou (though, as Alain Krivine of the Marxist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire said this week, 'when a man says that he is "neither on the left nor the right" you can be sure he's on the right'). Bayrou is of a similar Atlanticist cut to Sarkozy though, unlike the former Interior Minister, he opposed the Iraq war. He has said that he will appoint a Socialist Prime Minister, which has succeeded in sweetening the pill for many left-wing voters, who are desperate to avoid President Sarkozy at all costs. Opinion polls suggest that should Bayrou face Sarkozy in the second round, he would win, carrying with him the votes of almost the entire left. Whether this will persuade many leftists to fall on their sword and deny Royal the path to the second round is open to question. Recent polls have also indicated that the odious Le Pen, in spite of only just gaining the requisite 500 signatures to stand, enjoys the same amount of support as in 2002.

Seanachie will not, of course, be voting, though he is hoping that Sarkozy will not be in charge come June. There are many foreigners here that see Sarkozy as a liberal strongman that will shake France's economy up and challenge the country's many interest groups. There is no reason to suggest that Royal or Bayrou would not do that either though; as one commentator pointed out this week, Royal, who took the unusual step last weekend of brandishing the tricoleur and singing the Marseillaise, is, like Mitterand before her, of being a left-winger with a right-wing culture. She is likely to bring France's bloated social model closer to a Scandinavian-style one. It may not be as radical as Sarkozy's plans but she is also unlikely to sanction paramilitiary-style swoops to seize undocumented immigrants such as was done outside a nursery school in Belleville last week, in full view of screaming children, and the subsequent arrest of the principal of the school for daring to protest. Sarkozy also intends to establish a Ministry for Immigration and National Identity, which has been judged 'nauseating' by the CGT Trade Union and which former Minister for Health and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil, herself one of Sarkozy's supporters, has opposed. Sarkozy is a bitter little man with dangerously authoritarian plans, and France will do a lot better without him as leader.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stan's Record Breakers

The surreal nature of the current state of play for the Irish football team is exemplified by this piece from RTÉ, which reminds us that should Ireland defeat Slovakia on Wednesday - not an impossibility though a performance like the one against Wales will not facilitate it - they will become only the fourth Irish team to have won four qualifying games in a row. The previous three all did so on their way to the World Cup finals of 1990, 1994 and 2002. Now, those sides did not have the pleasure of facing San Marino in the first two games of their winning run, nor a Welsh team stricken with endemic incompetence. But it still has to be said that if Ireland win they will be in a surprisingly favourable position with no games to bother them until September, leaving them with plenty of time to sort the mess out, i.e. finding a replacement for Stan. I like the sheen of optimism given to the situation by the national broadcaster. Everybody's happy nowadays, as the Buzzcocks once said (after Aldous Huxley).

Are You Watching, Steve Staunton?

Northern Ireland showed the Republic how to finish off easy opposition with a 4-1 win away to Liechtenstein on Saturday, David Healy scoring a hat-trick to bring his international haul to an impressive 27 goals. Former Sligo Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers boss Lawrie Sanchez has shaken Norn Iron up and made them qualification contenders for the first time since the heyday of Billy Bingham. Rumours floating around at the weekend suggested that Merrion Square have pencilled in Sanchez as a possible replacement for Steve Staunton, something that Seanachie thinks unlikely, given the inevitable bad feeling that would ensue, especially as Neal Lennon had his life threatened for doing far less. But Sanchez was on the verge of quitting last September, being fed up with the petty sniping of the Belfast media.

Is This a Dagger I Hear Before Me?

I have nobody other than Twenty Major and Blogorrah to confirm this but Fianna Fáil have ruffled the feathers of a particularly pedantic anti-drugs campaigner by playing The Fratelli's pleasing toe-tapper 'Chelsea Dagger' at their Ard Fheis. It includes the line 'She gave me gear' - 'gear' being, I believe, what some of the younger generation call some illegal substance. Ms Gráinne Quinn of Europe Against Drugs was obviously listening out for something she desperately wanted to hear. I am rather shocked and saddened that this fine song will henceforth be inextricably associated with those gobshites, the Soldiers of Destiny.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mein Freund Deutschland

With the news of the Germans' win, 2-1 away to the Czech Republic, the future now looks a little bit brighter. Still a fresh-faced optimistic Candide, our Seanachie...

Bad 1 Worse 0

Much of this afternoon's game was spent devising a potential Indie-rock group comprised of various members of the current Irish squad - we finally settled on Steven Hunt on drums; Kevin Kilbane on bass; on lead guitar Jonathan Douglas and ... ladies and gentlemen, on vocals Kevin Doyle. The game itself wasn't too hot. It was an utter disgrace, to be honest, played out between two bad, clueless sides, and it was a measure of how bad Ireland were that a few schoolboy errors in the final twenty minutes might have resulted in them being pegged back to a draw by an embarrassingly bad Welsh formation and we would all have been put out of our misery by now.

But we did win it and when Eamon Dunphy said afterwards that he was hoping for a defeat it was treated by Bill O'Herlihy like a dirty secret. I would reckon however that old Grumpo's sentiments had a worryingly wide correspondence among Irish football fans. A win was welcome but the performance and the continuing evidence of a lack of organization in the Irish set-up is rather more troubling. The GAA ungraciously prepared a bumpy pitch of 1980s Lansdowne vintage, but that cannot be used to excuse an aimless Irish performance. It was only in the last fifteen minutes of the first half - during which Stephen Ireland scored his superb winner - that they looked in any way coherent. Robbie Keane and Damien Duff thankfully looked more sprightly than on recent occasions for Ireland though Keane will be missing against Slovakia on Wednesday. Which makes one think that Stan might select Doyle and Anthony Stokes up front. It might just work. But I expect things to be more conservative. We live until Wednesday at least.

Look! No Hands! - Soccer at Croker

Forget about the rugby: the real story about Croke Park being opened up to 'foreign' sports is the entrance of the Irish football team there for the first time, something that I never expected to see when I was growing up. This is analogous to the US opening an embassy in Pyongyang; the rugby team running out at Croker was, in comparison, about as momentous as John Howard sending an Aussie ambassador to North Korea. The Irish media understood this and so had to manufacture a controversy about 'God Save the Queen' being played at Croker to make the build-up to the England game a bit spicier. Rugby is a sport that has traditionally had barely any crossover with Gaelic games (or football) in terms of players or supporters. Soccer however, especially in places like Donegal, Sligo, South Tipperary, Cork, Dublin, Dundalk and in the north, among Catholics, has always been the chief rival of the GAA, the Ban on GAA members playing or attending foreign sports owes more to self-preservation than knee-jerk Anglophobia (Rule 21, was, of course, determined by the latter).

There was always a lot of pettiness in the GAA's attitudes towards soccer, especially as so many of its members were enthusiastic players and followers of it, seeing it, not as an English sport, but a world one, or more often as simply a game to play during the winter when Gaelic football was dormant. I remember being kicked off the local GAA pitch by one spiteful local official one evening when I was about ten for playing 'soccer'; this act of interference backfired badly on his part as the result was that we reformed the underage soccer team and promptly went about winning almost everything there was to win. Everybody on the team also played on the local Gaelic team, which did fairly well too. This incident was typical of many people growing up in Ireland, even for up to twenty-five years after Rule 42 was rescinded in 1971.

But the GAA has changed a lot since then, partly because the Old Guard has died out, partly because of a large amount of its membership playing other sports, and also because both Gaelic and hurling weathered admirably the competition from soccer in the 1990s. Croke Park realised that soccer, despite its rise in popularity was not the threat it was once thought to be, and Gaelic games remain undiminished in their appeal in their traditional strongholds. In fact, the success of our rugby and soccer teams internationally (not to mention the cricket team) is remarkable given that such a small population base is spread so thin over four team sports. Countries of similar sizes, such as Scotland, Croatia, Norway, Denmark and Finland usually have to grapple with no more than two sports.

And today, Ireland face Wales in the first soccer game ever at Croker. Given the decrepit nature of the FAI at the moment, the GAA can even be favourably viewed as the more visionary, more professional, and more enlightened organisation. They did, after all, get their act together and construct one of the finest stadiums in Europe (albeit with the help of substantial public funding). There are few die-hards left in the GAA that will spite the footballers (or the rugby players either); the majority of GAA members will rather feel extra pride at the international attention their magnificent stadium is getting.

As for the match itself, we live in hope. If we do not beat Wales and then Slovakia on Wednesday, the remaining five group games will be nothing but glorified friendlies. Even with two wins (against teams that we would normally expect to beat at home) the outlook is bleak enough. The best thing to hope for would be for Germany to run away with the group (starting today with a win in Prague, which is not beyond them) and for the Czechs to drop points here and there, in which a case an Ireland team producing improbably superhuman performances might grab second place. There is an air of the Euro 88 qualifiers about this group, and remember we won that group at the death in spite of not really winning that many games at all, and playing atrociously against the minnows of the group, Luxembourg. It is also easy to forget that Ireland have turned out two creditable - if hardly astounding - performances in this group, against both the Germans and the Czechs. But of course, we took only one point from those two games and, as Johnny Giles remarked this week, Staunton's boys are playing 'reaction football' alternating good performance with abominable ones - a clear sign of a lack of management. And the management is the real problem, especially when one sees the superb seasons the likes of Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ireland, Richard Dunne, Stephen Hunt and Robbie Keane are having in the Premiership. It is true that, as Roy Keane has pointed out, few of the senior players are being quite so good, and his namesake certainly never matches his Spurs form in a green shirt. We remain optimistic however. The Irish football team is one of the few things that still evokes a strange child-like state of innocence in Seanachie.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Irish Stumped By Cricket

On the eve of Ireland's World Cup cricket game against hosts the West Indies, I listened to a sports bulletin on Ian Dempsey's Breakfast Show hosting a cricket enthusiast explaining the game to the greater Irish public and a piece by Owen Boycott in The Guardian also remarked upon this. Am I the only person that finds it surprising that Irish people are incapable of understanding a sport that is effectively only baseball (read 'rounders' for all of yous that ever took part in the Community Games) with a few embellishments thrown in? I remember learning the rules of cricket (in the same afternoon as those of chess and tennis) when I was a nine-year-old unencumbered by the cares of an underachieving lifestyle, by heaving a couple of volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica off the shelf. If comprehending the rules of cricket is beyond the Irish it's hardly surprising that very few of us have ever bothered mastering even basic elements of computing and similar technology. And, of course, 'rules of cricket' can be Googled...

A Strange Week

It has been a strange week, with the announcement of the commissioning of an 'official' film of Ian Paisley's life, to be scripted by Gary Mitchell, the alleged murder of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer after his team's sensational defeat by Ireland and news of the State of Israel's very own MySpace page. There is an amusing article on the latter in Salon by former Israeli Presidential scriptwriter Gregory Levey, treating of a charm offensive by Israel to win the hearts of the under-35 age group in the US. Though the site is separated by as little as two degrees from some very unsavoury elements, it is largely inoffensive as are most of the comments left on it. In any case I'll be a Zionist for one day tomorrow to cheer Yossi Benayoun and Co. on against England; aren't we so petty, the Irish?

As for Paisley, if I were to spot the Grand Old Reverend in water-borne difficulties I would find it hard to intervene to save him, not least because I can't swim (and I imagine the man upstairs would, in most likelihood, be picking up the tab on that one). But that considered, I can envisage the film being a fascinating prospect, charting the life and rise to power of a genuine anachronistic religious nutcase, a sort of bin Laden with Ovaltine and slippers. I wonder if Big Ian will insist that all involved on the film abstain from the 'Devil's buttermilk' for the duration of the shoot?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Roy's Not Having Any of It

Roy Keane continues on his tack about Cork players being discriminated against by the suits in the FAI, citing his difficulties getting selected ahead of the Jackeens during his days as an underage player wearing the green shirt. It is, to be fair, a familiar argument from the era, and there many people from places other than Cork that complained about favoritism shown towards Dublin players. But that was done away with during Brian Kerr's successful tenure as underage manager, and today's Irish team boasts a far greater geographical spread than ever before, with the likes of John O'Shea, Stephen Ireland, Stephen Hunt (two Cork lads there, Roy), Kevin Doyle and Shay Given counterbalancing the Dubs on the panel. But Roy is right when he berates the Irish set-up for its lack of ambition and its willingness to settle for mediocrity. And, linked to the same RTÉ web page that this latest story appears on is Dunphy, the grand old man of Irish begrudgery flip-flopping over his old whipping boy Mick McCarthy. I'll have what he's having.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Give Us This Day....

It's a few days since I saw Nikolaus Geyrhalter's documentary Our Daily Bread, which offers an oblique and often impassive look at European agribusiness, or rather at the industry which underpins it. The title evokes King Vidor's socialist drama of the same name from 1934 though there is surprisingly little polemic in Geyrhalter's stately enigmatic film; though the film pledges over the opening title to donate 5% of its royalties to organisations with a commitment to producing and supporting organic food, there is no damning endictment of the production process, even as we see tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers being harvested on an industrial scale by placid migrant workers, piglets being gelded, pigs and fish alike being systematically gutted by machines, cows calving in pristinely clinical surroundings, cows being milked and later slaughtered in much the same. But then the polemic probably is there but in a latent sense. There is even no commentary nor any dialogue to speak of, and what there is appears to be natural and is left untouched by subtitles.

There is a similarity to Abol-Fazl Jalili's films, such as Dance of Dust or Delbaran, in the unflinching, steady tableaux, almost all framed with identical geometrical precision, and which invite one to be at turns repulsed, intrigued or bored. My own favourite sequence was the descent into a German salt mine, which is like something out of a science fiction film, the saline harvest gathered by two little identical-looking men, who resemble a cross between the Super Mario Brothers and Cerberus in their underground desert. There are scenes that might put some off touching meat ever again - though I, a recovering vegetarian, will have no such qualms - but the overall effect of the film is a quietly disquieting one, something that similar, more ideologically explicit, films such as Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka fail to achieve. Our Daily Bread is a film that allows both its subject and its audience a lot of space and it is all the better for that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cricket and the Absent Irish Flag

There was a pleasant surprise on St. Patrick's Day with the amazing defeat of Pakistan by the Irish cricket team in the World Cup; though Seanachie does not know a single Irish person who has ever wielded the willow, he is an admirer of this fine sport and he whiled away many languorous Spring afternoons as an undergraduate watching games in College Park. But I was disappointed when I logged onto the Cricket World Cup's official site to find that the only country that is not emblematised by its proper national flag is...Ireland. I don't know if the Irish Cricket Union has anything to do with this but one is moved to ask why this is the case. I can understand that there might be some members of the Irish cricket team (as is the case with the rugby team) that profess at least an equal allegience to the British flag, and Seanachie is not so chauvinistic that he cannot respect this. But, considering that both England and Scotland are happy to line out (at least on the ICP's official website) under flags other than the Union one, and that a number of the Irish team originated in South Africa and Australia, one might be forgiven for thinking that the tricolour would serve everyone on the team equally well. Its colours do, after all, embody an equality between two communities that is seen on few other flags in the entire world, and, despite the Republic's many faults, this is something that has never been interfered with by that State. Right-wing nutcases in cases such as this usually rant on about 'political correctness' and whatnot, but Underachievement is above all that. Here's hoping the Irish XI hoist the national flag for the game against the West Indies.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Looking Forward to Your Entry, Mr. Minghella

I've always had a soft spot for Anthony Minghella, ever since ten years ago, in my college finals for my Literature and Imperialism exam, I managed to somehow work an essay about his recently garlanded film of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient into the game. That film was far from being what one could truthfully call good but it did have a soothing middlebrow quality about it that made even perennial cynics such as myself admire it nonetheless. It is such a graceful abortion of a fine literary text, such a gormless paean to the lost glories of aristocratic ethnography that it is hard not to like it as, well, 'something different'.

It matters not that Minghella has never made a good film, not is ever likely to; it doesn't matter that he tore the life and soul out of Patricia Highsmith in The Talented Mr. Ripley - a feat as extraordinary as translating Hamlet into Arabic whilst maintaining both the metre and the rhyme - nor does it matter that Cold Mountain was scarcely watchable in its risible hotch-potch of fake Southern accents and sentimental whimsy. One part of my subconscious always tells me that 'Anthony's OK, he's with me', and when I turned up at the MK2 in Bastille the other night to find Olivier Dahan's Edith Piaf biopic La Môme sold out I was not entirely distraught to learn that the only other option left was Minghella's new opus Breaking and Entering.

Minghella's third successive partnership with Jude Law - a man who is surely and sadly pricing himself out of the market for his rightful place in Sunday night ITV drama - the film tells the story of an idealistic young architect - played by Law - who sets up shop at King's Cross, only to get his premises broken into repeatedly by a young Bosnian refugee who is a dab hand at Parkour, the building jumping invented by a bunch of French teenagers back in the 1980s. His relationship with longtime Swedish partner - played by Robin Wright Penn, her cheekbones seemingly elevated a couple of inches for the part - is under strain as Penn's autistic daughter begins to display symptoms that can only be a godsend to writers of contrived domestic dramas. There is also an Eastern European crack-whore with a heart of gold whom Law manages not to shag, Juliette Binoche playing the Bosnian Muslim mother of the young thief who has an affair with Law ('Vee survived' she pipes at one point in an accent that if credible only reinforces the absurdity of Binoche in the role). And then there's Martin Freeman - finally free of Wernham Hogg - as Law's business partner who does as little work in the atelier as Law himself does, and Ray Winstone as a loquacious, world-weary, philosophising cop. If that sounds terrible, well it is, and not even the unintentionally hilarious scene where Binoche writhes in pleasure as Law's tongue (or possibly his nose - it's offscreen) lifts her up where she belongs, bringing to mind Alan Partridge's famous comment: 'textbook sexual intercourse', can bring it any lower.

But this is an Anthony Minghella film and absurdity and lack of rational thought are no barriers to entertainment, and I was perfectly happy to remain gripped to my seat for the entire duration of the film. As I said, there is no room for rational thought in the film so I think I might be spared that necessity too. The film ends swaddled in typical implausibility, its pseudo-realism reminding me of Richard E. Grant's avowal in Robert Altman's The Player that 'this is real life'. This is a film that will do huge amounts of trade on DVD, and I can't say I begrudge it that, as I would probably watch it again given the opportunity (there is something vaguely pornographic about the impulsiveness it induces). Hell, I'm even thinking that Minghella's Hollywood remake of German Oscar-winner The Life of Others will be a bit of a hoot. 'Vee vill survive,' as Binoche might say.

Thoughts on French Students and Stationery

French students sure do like their stationery; even the adults that take a couple of hours off work for my classes, many of whom have pitifully low prospects of moving their English along, turn up with foolscap jotters free of any dog ears, a selection of pens and pencils, pencil sharpeners and something I haven't seen since I was about fourteen: pencil cases. And their hand-writing is nearly always very good too.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Roy Speaks Out

St. Patrick's Day greetings too from Sunderland manager Roy Keane, who has slammed the omission of two of his charges - David Connolly and Liam Miller - from Steven Staunton's squad for the games against Wales and Slovakia. I have always been fond of Connolly, one of the most underrated Irish players ever and his name would be much better known had his goal attempt in Suwon in 2002 rolled the right side of the post, and he probably still has a lot to bring to the Irish set-up. Miller's career has been unfortunate; he's now probably regretting leaving Celtic, never having settled in at Man U. Roy is not wrong in claiming that politics determine much of the selection process but Liam Miller being from Cork as a reason for his omission? Come on Roy, I had just started warming to you and this chip-shaped thing suddenly appears on your shoulder...

St. Patrick's Day Greetings

I don't expect many people from the old sod to be swerving any way close to this site today but I will wish all a happy St. Patrick's Day. If I may be allowed to slip into Dick Cheney oratory for a moment, yes, I am proud to be Irish, yes, I don't give a shit about St. Patrick's Day. But I will be out having a few later, mainly to celebrate a friend's birthday, who owes his second name to his peculiar date of birth. But in the spirit of festivity below is a wee piece that sums up the importance of the day rather accurately, if the Muppets are judging us, well it takes one to know one. Interestingly I was once told by an English lecturer in college that the original air to 'Danny Boy' (the lyrics of which were written by an Englishman, folks) is known as the 'Londonderry air' not out of political chauvinism but because the 'Derry air' would have sounded too much like the French for 'arse' for polite society in the past. Enjoy, and enjoy the day, however you might. Thanks to the Gweedore man for the Muppets. Once again it takes one to know one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Persian The Thought

Seanachie is a big fan of Iranian culture, or at least that small part of it with which he is acquainted, such as the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen and Samira Makhmahlbaf, Abol-Fazl Jalili and Jafar Panahi; the poetry of Furough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou, and the excellent comic-book work of Marjane Satrapi. The latter in particular has been instrumental in increasing awareness among Westerners of the country that goes beyond the familiar clichés of crazed fundamentalist ayatollahs and defiant anti-Western rhetoric. What has been most remarkable about the Iranian diaspora over the past twenty years, spread as it is around the Middle East, North America, France and Britain, is both its success in business, academe and other fields but also its resolute opposition to the Islamic regime back home. And that opposition is mirrored in many sectors back in Iran, where it is a good deal trickier, to be measured almost week-by-week against variations in the political climate.

Now, however one thing has succeeded in uniting both the Islamic establishment in Iran and the more liberal diaspora: the new film 300, due to be released in Europe next week, which tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae fought in 480BC by the Spartans against the Persians, led by the celebrated Xerxes. The Iranians on both sides complain of historical inaccuracies and misrepresentation of ancient Persian culture, while the Iranian government condemn an 'act of terror' directed at them by the West. While there may be be an undercurrent of historical bias in the fiction based on a comic book by Sin City creator Frank Miller, I doubt that most people involved in the film even considered that the ancient Persians had any relation to modern Iran. To view the film as an piece of Imperialist propaganda is misguided, to say the least. But one can understand the frustration of Iranians, who, as well as seeing their country and culture constantly smeared by ignorant Westerners (and disgraced by the madmen in control in Teheran), should also see their ancient civilization unrecognised. Even if disputing the facts of a battle that took place two and a half millenia ago is a bit sensitive. My favourite act of dissension by Iranian bloggers is the 'Google-bombing' devised by Canadian-based Pendar Yousefi, which plans to divert Google searches about the film to websites that offer other perspectives on Persian culture and art. Enlightening even a hundred lazy Westerners will be a job well done. The Iranians will get redress of sorts with the release later this year of the film adaptation of Satrapi's Persepolis, which from the film stills alone looks like it is going to be great.

Winterwood You Bother?

Winner of this year's Irish Book Award for fiction is Patrick McCabe's Winterwood, which I read before Christmas, thought about reviewing here, and then didn't bother with as it was yet another patchy and unremarkable work by the once-great Monaghan novelist. The novel tells the tale of a journalist whose small-town mentor has been convicted of child abuse and murder and who later turns to the dark side himself, spiriting his own daughter away after the break-up of his marriage and changing his identity.

Many have admired the intensity of McCabe's writing in this and his other recent novels and also his ability to penetrate troubled and deranged minds. It is true that he is unique among contemporary Irish writers in this way but ever since Breakfast on Pluto, he has strayed a little too far away from the real world, and the reality of contemporary Ireland to entirely convince. His two masterpieces, The Butcher Boy and The Dead School (and even the more modest earlier novel Carn) were inextricably allied to social reality, while of course presenting an exaggerated form of it - the Gay Byrne-esque talk show host Terry Krash being a particularly memorable example. Winterwood on the other hand presents an Ireland that is only flittingly recognisable, and McCabe has an irritating tendency to stretch the Celtic Tiger years a little too thin - too often one is led to imagine that they started in the late 1980s. His jokes have also got tiresome of late, his hyperactive pseudo-knowing narrative voice over-familiar. The problem with McCabe reminds me of what Anthony Lane said about the flamboyant films of the Canadian Guy Maddin a few years back: 'Maybe he should calm down a bit, it's not as if anyone's going to mistake his films for anybody else's'.

has garnered largely positive reviews, including one by Irvine Welsh (which might not be considered welcome by many writers) but one has to seriously ask is this the best fiction Ireland has produced in the past year? I haven't read much else Irish published in that time but surely the period has not been so lean in terms of quality?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lucie Aubrac 1912-2007

The truly remarkable French Resistance fighter Lucie Aubrac passed away yesterday at the age of 94; Aubrac, a lifelong member of the French Communist Party led an audacious raid on the prison near Caluire in Lyon in 1943 where her husband Raymond was being held, freeing him and thirteen other Resistance fighters. She had previously organised her own escape from a Nazi prison in 1940. A measure of her bravery was her meeting with Klaus Barbie, the notorious Lyon Gestapo chief, to negotiate a meeting with the incarcerated Raymond before springing him from prison under the nose of the Butcher himself. Lucie later escaped to London where she lived before returning to France after the war. She was played by Carole Bouquet (and Raymond by Daniel Auteuil) in a leaden biopic by Claude Berri ten years ago and she published in recent years a book poignantly entitled How Do I Explain Racism to My Grandchildren? Her longevity was equalled by Raymond, who survives her age 92.

If You're Irish Come Out and Get Hammered

The BBC reports that the Irish are the biggest binge drinkers in Europe, which will not come as a surprise to anyone, nor will the news that our nearest rivals are the British, the Finns and the Danes. I'm not pointing any fingers here as I'm no more shy of tippling than any one else but once again I will enjoy spending St. Patrick's Day a long way from Dublin.

What particularly riles me though is the way that the Irish believe their own bullshit and stereotypes, swallowing the myth that the Irish have been heavy drinkers since time immemorial. According to the Gill and MacMillan Encyclopaedia of Ireland, published a few years back, as late as 1968, 52% of Irish adults were teetotal, and I would well believe it, as there are many non-drinkers on both sides of my family and my grandfather's pub was never a money-spinner in the years before his death in 1956. One might point out that such abstinence itself dated only from the great temperance drives of Father Mathew and others in the late nineteenth century, but most countries in Europe drank far more back then than they do today.

The increase in alcohol consumption coincided with the rise in popularity of the likes of Guinness and Jameson abroad and with the corresponding popularity with Ireland's most regrettable export, the Irish Pub, which has allowed the Irish to be damned with faint praise by well-intentioned folk everywhere from Chile to Japan. There is nothing terribly imaginative in pointing out the plastic nature of Irish culture and the Irish's willingness to play along with it (ask most Irish people from what year 'The Fields of Athenry' dates and you can be sure that very few will answer you '1978'), but it is striking how few genuinely Irish beers and spirits there are to begin with, and how few of those are actually Irish-owned. There are scarcely any independent Irish brewers other than the PorterHouse group since the Dublin Brewing Company went to the wall and the Cooley Distillery is the only one not owned by Pernod Ricard. Not only is aggressive advertising fuelling the national stereotype - and its real-life realisation - but it is only on the strength of a handful of products.

The phone-ins will continue to deplore the current situation but there is little that can be done to change it; true, the Vintners' Federations should be faced down (I've always found 'vintner' a rather grand name for a businessman that serves his wine in an airplane bottle) but people will still drink - its merely another expression of Irish people's deranged thirst for consumption, the sort that has allowed huge debts to be built up in the country and which has allowed Irish businesses to charge comedy prices for rubbish services that wouldn't be tolerated in the poorer home countries of many of our recent immigrants. Ireland will only ease off the pints when the next recession comes. Until then the boozing is here to stay but hopefully we might all tire of the 'hail fellow well met when hammered' stereotype.

FAI: Glass Three-Quarters Not Full

Steve Staunton today named his squad to face Wales and Slovakia in the first soccer games ever to be played at Croke Park and the FAI is unstinting in its enthusiasm and optimism, reminding us on its official website that 'Ireland have taken seven out of a possible nine points in their last three group games. Another couple of victories would put them back in with a shout of claiming one of the top two places on offer come the end of the campaign.' A nice massaging of both facts and statistics there, considering that the only team we have been able to get the better of so far in the campaign has been San Marino, and the second time only just. No easy games left in international football. Seanachie will be watching both games despite his unambivalent attitude towards Staunton's stewardship. It brings me back to when I was a wee fellow watching the Irish team die by their Eoin Hand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ambassador, You Are Spoiling Us...

We are so familiar of the cliché of someone being an 'ambassador' for such and such a cause - and it is most often used in cases of the fall from grace of some such 'ambassador' - that it is a curious pleasure to see it used to apply to the fall from grace of a real-life ambassador, who henceforth will probably be remembered as being a great ambassador for the select community of those that get found by the police lying in the street drunk and naked but for the scant cover afforded by bondage gear. Step forward Israeli ambassador to El Salvador Tzuriel Refael; since recalled by Tel Aviv, his arrest has been called an 'unprecedented emabarrassment' by a government spokesman, who was presumably not moved to the same sentiments by the levelling of Jenin, last year's bombing of Lebanon or the erection of Israel's illegal 'security wall' in the Occupied Territories.

My sympathy goes out to Ambassador Refael, who, one imagines, knew how to have a good time and was not willing to allow a mere trifle such as diplomatic protocol to interfere with his fight for the right to party. But one might ask what Israel is doing with a diplomatic presence in such a small republic thousands of miles away as El Salvador. The answer might lie in the Central American state being a loyal client for the Israeli arms industry, and a couple of decades of back, for Israeli expertise in training its government-sponsored death squads. A similar thought ran through my mind when I walked through the beautiful old town centre of Bratislava last month, seeing embassies housed on almost every street corner. I was a bit surprised to see, alongside the missions of better-known countries the consulates of such marginal nations as Georgia and Paraguay, until I realised that such countries are probably availing of Slovakia's long-standing arms industry. Of course, Costa Rica, which famously abolished its army in 1948, also has an embassy there. But Costa Rica still imports weapons for its police force and its state paramilitaries, I presume.

Richard Dawkins and A.N. Wilson

Further to the post on Saturday about Richard Dawkins' scorning of Peter Kay's simple faith, it appears that the biologist was entrapped, to a certain extent, as this letter of clarification attests. Dawkins was fed an anonymous quote and asked to comment on it, which is, shall we say, not really cricket. However, as Dawkins admits that he is regularly sought out for such rent-a-quotes, you would think that he might have asked to whom the original comment was to be attributed, as many more careful people would do. Though I find Dawkins' evangilism counter-productive and tiring I have a certain degree of sympathy for him as the story first originated in an article in the Daily Mail, by the insufferable A.N. Wilson, an Anglican High Church Militant, probably the most zealous Protestant in Britain. A good few years ago, at the Booker Prize ceremony that John McGahern attended for his nomination for Amongst Women, Wilson ungraciously accused McGahern in front of a number of guests, of supporting the IRA in the novel, an accusation that any literate person that read it would view as absolute tosh. McGahern, a man who was possessed of more dignity than many men better than Wilson, simply nodded and gave an indulgent smile. I suppose he figured you had to suffer fools like Wilson at ceremonies such as those.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Better Eastwood

Late last year I reviewed Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers, the first of his diptych about the Battle for Iwo Jima, which I found well-intentioned but worthy and dull, and ultimately devoid of sufficient tension to make it a memorable war movie. The companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima, which was surprisingly nominated for a number of Oscars and which treats of the Japanese soldiers who died defending the island, is curiously a more interesting film. The film, based mainly on the letters of Imperial General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who is played by Ken Watanabe, is an old-fashioned Renoiresque slice of humanism, that, even if it does not quite realise the ambitions either of its subject matter or its lenght, is for the most part engaging.

As well as Gen. Kuribayashi, an equestrian champion at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, the film focusses on the lives of a young conscripted baker Saigo, played by Japanese boyband singer Kazunari Ninomiya and the cynical but good-hearted Shimizu, played by Ryô Kase, who has been seen in such excellent Japanese films of the past few years such as Katsuhito Ishii's The Taste of Tea and Kore-Edu Hirokazu's Nobody Knows. Shimizu is a former Tokyo policeman mobilised as punishment for insubordination when he fails to kill a family pet on his beat. What makes the film most interesting is its gradual pull towards the ineluctable military humiliation seen through the eyes of men who by the end of the film have been thorougly sickened by both the ravages of the battle and the Imperial propaganda fed them. Iris Yamashita's screenplay is a bit creakily schematic in its exposition of the change in heart among the men but the performances alone are persuasive and it is good to see a film that shows the losing side of war, especially that fought by ordinary people whose cause was abominable.

Eastwood's diptych is a refreshing redressal of the simplistic hagiography of US soldiers that followed Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, something that has since fed into bullying of any American that dared to criticise the US' involvement in Iraq. One senses that Spielberg, as co-producer on these two films, has a tinge of regret at the way his own laudable message has been used. While the film has been a huge hit in Japan, possibly the first American film about the war to be so, it is also unmistakably an Eastwood film, bearing the unfussy but well-crafted stamp of his entire oeuvre, which, even when the films are not that good, always delivers a few qualities. My opinion might be tinted by having recently seen the second half of the series, but I even think that the earlier, inferior film might be enriched by proximity to Letters from Iwo Jima. Well worth seeing.

Hungary for Publicity?

I wrote last week of the new planned stadium on the site of the former Maze prison being up to be named after the highest bidder. Now the financially-strapped village of Ivád in eastern Hungary has offered its streets to be renamed - for no less than three hundred years - after anyone who cares to be a benefactor to its municipality. Streets start at just under €97,000 and range up to €240,000 for the Mayfair on the Ivád Monopoly board, the unnamed 'Street H'. The total package can be purchased for €1.38m. The village plans to use the money to upgrade street lighting, the local sewage system as well as the village nursery school. The only stipulations for being immortalised in the geography of Ivád is that the person in question be 'prominent in their sphere of life' and that they be dead before the renaming can take effect.

The brainchild of the young Mayor of the village, Gábor Ivády, the scheme is reminiscent of one recounted in Jonathan Raban's Bad Land ten years ago where a small town in Montana renamed itself Joe, in an attempt to drum up publicity and revenue (it was to be thenceforth known as Joe, Montana, geddit?) though it has since reverted to its original name. Mayor Ivády, has said that everyone is welcome to tender offers and he personally evoked the names of Jennifer Aniston and Barbara Streisand, the latter of whom '[he] greatly admires'. The only other townsperson cited in the article in Libé is also named Ivády, which makes one wonder. A man that might be a perfect candidate to grace an Ivád nameplate is Mayo patriot Ulick McEvaddy, whose unusual surname sounds like it originated in the village's hinterland.

Joking apart, the story is a sad reflection of the failure of certain post-Communist societies to provide basic infrastructural upkeep for struggling communities. I'm sure that the village did not take the decision lightly but it would be a shame if the entire village be branded for centuries to come just as a quick-fix solution for the present day.

An Gaeilge Cainte

Níor cheap mé go mbeadh mé ag cur poist eile san chéad teanga náisiúntach chomh luath mar seo ach chuir an píosín nuaichte galanta seo é i m'intinn. Dúirt an tAire Oideachais Mary Hanafin inné go mbeidh béim níos mó curtha ar an bplás don Ghaeilge cainte sna dhá scrúdaithe meán scoileacha, agus sa mhúineadh é féin, cé a bheidh curtha i bhfeidm trí bhliain seo chugainn. Dar le Sheanachie tá sé caoga bliain ró-dhéanaí agus mar sin féin fanann an Gaeilge ach roghnach don Theastas Sóiséarach. Ach is tosnú beag é, glacaim.

Táim críochnaithne leis na phoiste as Gaeilge don bhomaite, níl aon ciall chun na ghnáthléitheoirí den mblog seo bheith buartha. Nílim imithe bananas go léir.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Seachtain na Gaeilge Feicthe ó bPáras

Is annamh a gcuirim síos as Gaeilge, de bharr de roinnt réasúin, ach dúradh liom gur Seachtain na Gaeilge é i láthair. Mar sin, cén fath nár gcuardainn an dóigh chun píosín a dhéanamh chun an rud a chéiliúradh? Anseo i bPáras ní bhíonn mórán seans agam chun an teanga a thabhairt amach as an phóca - ní malairt mór é sin de mBÁC nó an páirt mór de h-Éireann. Is minice, bíonn sé áisiúil chun agallamh, deireamar, níos príobhádach a chóiméad i measc na daoine, cé dóibh a bheadh an Béarla chomh léiritheach ná an bhFraincis féin. Ar ndóigh mar sin féin is annamh ná é sin a tharladh. Don pháirt mór de hÉireannaigh eisimeracaigh, oibríonn an teanga sinsearach mar brat breise, cosúil le leann dubh áirithe ná bhur stair dearóil ar láimhe na Shasanaigh (ocht aoise anróitaigh, leoga) nó, mar a deir blogeoir amháin le déanaí 'mar geansaí na gCealtaigh teangeolaíochta'. Níl na eisimircigh go h-án difriúil den slua sa bhaile mar sin. Agus tá orm a ghlacadh go bheathaím an claonadh sin mar scríobh trí Gaeilge ar an mblog seo i rith na Seachtain na Gaelige amháin (gan bheith fhios agam go bhfuil sé ar siúl fós). Ach is é an lámh a roinneadh dúinn sa Stair (agus nílim ag lochtadh na Sasanaigh amháin nuair a deirim é sin); is deacair go leor chun Stair na hÉireann ná sa chultúr a phlé nó aird a chur orthu le éinne trí Bhéarla na laethanta seo. Mairfidh an teanga Gaelach ar feadh cúpla h-aoise níos mó, ach beidh sé mar simulacrum saghas plaisteachach, mar sin féin den gcultúr níos fairsinge. Bhuel, ar aon nós is é sin mo pháirtín déanta liomsa. Geallaim go ndéanfaidh mé é arís roimh an am seo an bhliain seo chugainn.

Lovely Day

A 1-0 defeat for Celtic at the hands of the Huns in the 374th Old Firm game; I didn't watch it because it is such a lovely day here that I didn't feel like spending it in the back bar of the Auld Alliance. I'm heading out again to enjoy it. I'll probably go to a movie too but once again the three hours of David Lynch's Inland Empire is a bit off-putting. More from me later.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My Zealous God

Never a man to let an opportunity slip to smash a walnut with a sledgehammer, Darwinist and renowned aetheist Richard Dawkins has lambasted chirpy comedian Peter Kay, for professing in his autobiography to believe in a 'comforting God'. Dawkins, who clearly was not doing much else at the time, fumed:

'How can you take seriously someone who likes to believe something because he finds it 'comforting'?

'If evidence were found for a supreme being I would change my mind instantly -with pride and with great surprise. Would I find it comforting? What matters is what is true, and we discover truth by evidence, not what we would 'like'.'

And there was I thinking that Peter Kay was just a comedian. It is not the first time that Dawkins has been unnecessarily arrogant and boorish on the issue of belief in God. He is one of the greatest biologists of the last fifty years and he has well earned his respect as both an eminent theorist of evolution and his public fame due to the success of his books. However, his use of this fame is both embarrassing and tiresome. You wonder if Dawkins has any social skills to speak of; even in the columns he has written for The Guardian, The Independent and others his evangelical arrogance has been an embarrassment to many of his admirers, and if anything, his belligerence has set the cause of secularism, not to mention, aetheism, back decades. Though I suppose it is a bit of a novel diversion from the old 'but religion has been the cause of so many wars' line. Even the most brilliant intellectuals can be damn silly at times.

Better Run, Because the Rovers are in Town

Sligo Rovers appeared not to be too perturbed by Rob McDonald's absconding on the eve of the new season, as they travelled to Terryland and comfortably defeated newly-promoted Galway United 2-0. Galway were subject to this rather over-enthusiastic eulogy in The Guardian this week, no doubt penned by a fan of theirs. Nick Leeson, he who brought down Baring's Bank has been working to make Galway a profitable enterprise. Best of luck to both Leeson and Galway but 'the best-run club in these parts'? Considering the way Sligo have kept themselves healthy financially since their brush with defunction in 1989, and won a few trophies in that time too, we might smile indulgently at Galway's newly-found fame thanks to a high-profile general manager. Well-run they might be but, even in the unsure world of League of Ireland football these days, results are still what count. Unless you happen to be Galway United, who were beaten three times by Dundalk last season and finished behind them but still went up because of a healthier financial state.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tories and British Army Linked to Racism - I Kid You Not

Don't we just love the Tories? The natural party of government has suffered its latest Strangelovesque slip in the ranks as 'Homeland Security' spokesman (I thought the 'Homeland' was the USA) Patrick Mercer tells Timesonline that 'being called a black bastard is how it is in the army.' Mercer is a former colonel who has served in the colonies - including nine tours in what he would refer to as 'Aaalstah' - so he clearly knows his stuff. Not even Spanish footballing administrators are as hip to the beat on the truth about racism as Col Mercer. The problem with those darkies is they just don't have that stiff upper lip...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Old McDonald Has a Nerve

Now it appears that Rob McDonald, rather than contenting himself with running away with the maid, is determined to ruin the old lady that is Sligo Rovers by demanding compensation after resigning because he has not, according to him, being offered a contract that was agreed upon four months ago. Surely the Rovers executive could not have dallied for so long without setting up proper terms when dealing with a man that had the word 'fool' practically embedded in his DNA? Has the Showgrounds turned into an FAI franchise?

Dishing the Dirt on Underachievement

As with anyone that tracks their blog and tries to divine reasons for anyone dropping by - and most reasons are aleatory and accidental more than intentional - I have begun to analyse the referrals to Underachievement and have been a bit surprised to find that people have been getting here by chance thanks to searches for things of a more assuredly carnal nature (and, believe me, a blog named 'Underachievement' is not deliberately sought out for such things). It all started off with my mentions of Thomas Gravesen's 'exuberant' girlfriend Kira Eggers and it has spiralled into less obviously glamorous territory. Now, Seanachie is not the sort to throw either the first, third or fifth stone, but he is disturbed on the one hand that his perfectly clean assessment of the German-style toilet attracted one person (only one, I will point out to those others that I know read it) due to a search for 'Sheisse movies' (America hang your head in shame). And then there was the Croatian that somehow ended up here having looked for 'glimpse it torrent' (Google tells me that it's mainly for watersports enthusiasts - I will never use that word 'glimpse' again). And today, Underachievement was solicited for information regarding nude images of its favourite Polish custodian Artur Boruc by one of his countrymen or women. Seanachie has never before used the words 'Artur Boruc' and 'naked' in the one sentence, though the good people at Google, or their algorithmic lackeys, give that impression. Now maybe if you refine your search to 'Artur Boruc+stark+bollock+naked+underachievement', something will happen...

The Death of Jean Baudrillard Will Not Take Place

Jean Baudrillard passed away this week, or, as many wags - not least himself - would put it, his simulacrum did. Baudrillard was a brilliant, if sometimes fatuous and wayward thinker whose infamy in the English-speaking world owed mainly to an over-literal reading - or, as in many cases, no reading at all - of one of his most famous texts The Gulf War Will Not Take Place. This famously posited that the First Gulf War, being an event that had already been enacted in the Western media and to be consumed through the media alone, would not take place. Note that Baudrillard did not say 'will not exist', and part of the failure of some Anglophone literalists to detect morality implicit in his text was due to its ignorance of Jean Giraudoux's war satire, The Trojan War Will Not Take Place, from which it drew its title. While Baudrillard's lofty anti-ideologising fed into a lot of the post-political posturing of postmodern thought, in this work, and in many others that continued until his death, he was far from being amoral. If anything it was a critique of Western complacency and apathy rather than an endorsement of it. Those that pointed out that the casualties in Iraq were real were not telling Baudrillard anything he didn't know.

Baudrillard is also famous for The Matrix, that silly, pretentious mishmash of post-modern thought and shopworn spiritualism, in which a hollowed-out copy of his book Simulacra and Simulations concealed clandestine software. I remember Gilbert Adair remarking in a review of the film at the time that 'I'm quite willing to suspend disbelief to imagine that Keanu has read a book, but Simulacra and Simulations? Puhleaase...' But much of Baudrillard's disciples were à la carte theorists, lifting what they pleased and discarding anything that was either more difficult or troubling.

Like most critical theory Baudrillard's work was despised by many of those who followed in the line of both Anglo-Saxon empiricism and French duality. And yes, there were times when he overreached himself, like many of his peers, in making statements about science that were either beyond his ken or just plain wrong. But he also introduced, with Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and others an important element of imagination into philosophical thinking (and philosophy has never been as empirical or rigorous as many Anglo-Saxon pedants claim) and opened it up once again to a broad political and cultural field. He was also a talented photographer and his photo/text books about his travels in America are stimulating meditations on travel, disorientation and everyday life.

Some of his best work came, as with Beckett, in short texts published in the years before his death, such as The Spirit of Terrorism, his response to 9/11, and a later post-tsunami piece In Search of Absolute Evil. Apologies for those links being in French but they should be found easily enough in English elsewhere on the web. I would take the likes of Baudrillard, Derrida, and Bourdieu any day above the younger nouveaux philosophes such as the self-righteous pedant Bernard-Henri Lévy or former leftists André Gluckmann and Alain Finkielkraut, both of whom have morphed into pre-election cheerleaders for Nicolas Sarkozy.

Milan, Can't Bear It

The dream ended tonight in Milan for Celtic where they fell gallantly to a Kaka goal two minutes into injury-time. It was not a terrible surprise though it was sad to see us bow out after such a spirited fight; of course I'm not going to deny that once again the difference in class was obvious, nor that Celtic gave away far too much ball in the middle third of the field (most notably when Evander Sno lost the ball that led to the goal), nor that Milan were not terribly good on the night. But the manner and attitude with which Celtic broached the challenge was a refreshing change from many of their previous away-from-home assignments in Europe. Even if there was little edge up front, Celtic did not shy from pushing to try and catch the locals off guard, and they even played a bit of attractive football in the meantime. If Nak had been still on the field for the final free-kick a minute from time we might be in the draw for the next round. But hypotheses have no more place in football than they do in real life. Celtic are not as good a side as Milan and neither would they have been even if they had gone through (though Liverpool triumphed over Milan in Istanbul two years ago without being better than them either). There was a bracing mix of realism and romanticism in Gordon Strachan's game plan tonight and at the back Stephen McManus and young Darren O'Dea were a marked improvement on the leakiness of two weeks ago. Celtic played well and battled all the way, and no, they were not just happy to be on the same field as Berlusconi's men. Moreover, given the bad blood that has directed the flow of footballing emotions across Europe in the past few months, the dignified way that Strachan and his men, and the fans accepted their defeat, despite their clear devastation, was exemplary. People who know Celtic well also know that it is not a club to be identified with a minority of sectarian thugs and muppets that turn up to protest against 'foreign sports' wearing its colours. Hopefully we'll play that way more often in Europe next year.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Floating Voter

I was talking to my Senegalese friend Fred about the recent Presidential elections in his country and which he was decrying as fixed (outgoing president Abdoulaye Wade being re-elected). I have to take him on his word for want of any real knowledge about Senegalese politics, but I was impressed by the fact that he was able to vote from Paris, as, presumably tens of thousands of other Senegalese living abroad can too (or at least those that have their foreign residencies regularised). Which is more than I can do from here; once again if I want to vote in May's General Election - assuming it doesn't arrive before then - it will be with the help of Ryanair that I do so, and given that I'm already taking a week off work that month for my brother's wedding in Andalusia, that may not be too feasible.

People have been arguing for votes for emigrants for a long time and successive governments, nervous at the prospect of facing a section of the electorate that might have a negative view of the political status quo, have resisted all such calls. Pundits such as the late Jonathan Philibin Bowman used to argue that allowing emigrants the vote would result in large electoral gains for Sinn Féin, which was a specious point of view as most people that emigrated from Ireland in the 1980s were no more inclined to support the Provos than those that were fortunate enough to stay at home. And even if the Shinners did enjoy a certain surge in popularity, get with it; if they were not banned from contesting the elections, people should not have been excluded from voting simply because they might have voted for them. It's called democracy, and pace Dev's infamous line, the People do have the right to do wrong.

Of course, the question of how long one should retain one's right to vote after leaving one's country is a valid one and I myself see a vote in France as possibly more pertinent given that I am unlikely to live in Ireland under the next government, whatever hue it might be. But I cannot do that without taking up French citizenship, which even if I were that bothered about doing (at the moment I don't see the point) I cannot for another three years at least. As we are now living in a Europe where we have the right to work wherever we want, and are taxed accordingly, shouldn't there be a trans-European accord to allow EU citizens living in another member state for, say, a minimum of two years, to vote in more than simply municipal and European elections? The French Communist Party, in its election manifesto, pledges to allow all immigrants, even illegal ones, to vote, though few people are banking on Marie-Georges Buffet inhabiting the Palais de l'Elysée come May. It seems absurd that in an era where Ireland is closer than ever before to the outside world, and Europe in particular, that Irish people living abroad should be stuck in an electoral no-man's land. Serves us right for leaving in the first place, I suppose.

There, But For the Grace of Rob, Sligo

Sligo Rovers have suffered the pain of being jilted at the altar, just before the beginning of the Eircom League season, by English cad and bounder Rob McDonald, a man whose serial obscurity and one-time failure at Newcastle United did not prevent him from gracing the same field as the likes of Johann Cruyff, Arnold Muhren, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten when he played for PSV Eindhoven in the 1980s. Nor did it prevent him from being offered the managers' job at the Showgrounds upon Sean Connors' departure late last year. Rob has already managed to encourage many of the club's better local part-timers to leave due to his new full-time policy, implemented at a time when many Irish clubs are in serious danger of going to the wall. Rob even managed to provoke mild-mannered RTÉ Northern correspondent and Bit o'Red fan Tommie Gorman to pen an impassioned article in the Sligo Champion before Christmas calling on him to resign before he destroyed the club. Well, now he has. Poor Rovers must feel like a gullible ageing spinster bride left in the lurch. Heartbroken, I tell you.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rocker e i suo Fratellis

A brief note on music; I am currently enjoying the Fratelli's Costello Music, which is culpably catchy, proof yet again of the Scots' greater aptitude for rock than us Irish. The glam stormers, 'Henrietta' and 'Chelsea Dagger' are stand-out tracks but there are very few weak ones on the album as a whole. And the lyrics aren't bad either. Meanwhile, the best that Ireland can throw us is Humanzi - even the name is awful.

Damon Albarn's new supergroup The Good, the Bad and the Queen are perplexing after his detours into hip-hop with Gorillaz. There is something wilfully obscure about this slow burner of an album that features heavy artillery on all instruments: Tony Allen on drums (asking the king of Afro-Beat drumming to play on a rock album is a bit like putting Ronaldinho in a holding role, but he doesn't get too bored here), Paul Simenon on bass, Simon Tong of the Verve on guitar, as well as couldn't-be-more-in-demand producer Dangermouse at the mixing desk. All the songs sound similar, if not quite the same, and there are few of them that can be called catchy but even as the thing plods along, the languid cut and mix slowly beguiles. He can't sit still that Albarn lad.

And there's a lot of Country too, listening to the likes of John Prine, Gram Parsons, Blanche and Merle Haggard while walking the streets of Paris is possibly the most incongruous musical experience imaginable. As the great John Hartford once sang: 'So its goodbye to the sunshine, goodbye to the dew/Goodbye to the flowers, and goodbye to you/I'm off to the subway. I must not be late/I'm going to work in tall buildings.'

Copywriting the Peace Process

While flicking through the London Times the other day I came across an ad, placed by the British Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, calling for tenders, not for the design of a new stadium on the site of the former Maze/Long Kesh prison, but for the right to have it named after one's company, one's brand, or if you're feeling particularly extravagant, oneself. The planning of the new stadium is to be overseen by Mott McDonald HOK, whose previous portfolio includes Croke Park, the Emirates Stadium and the impending Lansdowne Road rehaul.

While I am not so cynical that I cannot hail a peace, however fragile, finally settling on the troubled northern corner of our island, there is a wearisome recourse to vacuous jargon and rhetoric in the text of the ad:

'The vision of the future of Northern Ireland is for a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust.

'The proposed development of the Maze/Long Kesh former prison site is planned to provide a physical expression of the ongoing transformation from conflict to peace and to provide an inclusive and shared resource for the whole community.'

That's a lot of positive language in two short paragraphs, but, given its recent history, Northern Ireland can be forgiven for engaging in 'wouldn't it be great if it could be like this all the time' wistfulness, even when the wilful politeness of this New Labour-honed prose does seem to protest too much. What I find ultimately depressing however is the final clunker dropped at the end of the ad, which calls for the wonderful opportunity to brand this symbol of peace and prosperity:

'We are seeking a sponsor who supports the ethos of the Shared Future for Northern Ireland [note all those block capitals] and who appreciates the mutual commercial benefits to be gained by being associated with the international branding of this iconic proposal.'

When George Best shuffled off this mortal coil eighteen months ago, many pointed out that he was probably the only Irishman for centuries to have been viewed with the same favour of all his compatriots both north and south. If one were to be permitted to be sentimental, might one not suggest that he might be a better choice to bear the name of the stadium, rather than have it be yet another Allianz Arena, a Budweiser Bowl or Vodafone Park? Admittedly there is not much money to be made from Bestie, now that the after-dinner speech circuit is closed to him, but it is hard to share the Strategic Investment Board's enthusiasm for a project that is always going to symbolise more the reach of a multinational conglomerate than any putative spirit of peace and reconciliation.

On a Swiss Roll

A cracker of a news story here that I first discovered this morning in France's only Sunday newspaper, the snappily-titled Le Journal du dimanche, and which has since been confirmed by the New York Times. Swiss military personnel, whilst on manoeuvres earlier this week, got lost and accidentally invaded their tiny eastern neighbour Lichtenstein, an infraction made doubly embarrassing by the fact that the army of this most neutral of countries is barred by law from operating outside of Swiss territory. The Lichtensteiners, who possess no army of their own, are not unduly worried by the mistake, though a similar thing did happen in 1989, when adverse weather conditions caused shells launched by the Swiss as part of a training routine to land down on a section of forest in Lichtenstein. So much for the famed Swiss precision.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Return of Lars von Trier

There are many contemporary filmmakers that I admire but there are few that are as consistently brilliant as the Dane Lars Von Trier. He started off in the 1980s with a string of interesting though ultimately dull films such as The Element of Crime and Europa, and it was only with his mid-nineties TV series The Kingdom that he came into remarkable form, which has continued ever since, with Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville. Only the second part of the Dogville trilogy, Manderlay has proven to be a disappointment. Von Trier is disliked by many, and has been ever since his earliest days as a film student; the aristocratic partitive 'von' dates from a nickname given to him because of his pompousness back in the early 80s. His modus operandi is provocation though on a highly complex, conceptual scale. He is vilified for misogyny, especially in Breaking the Waves, though that film is more an examination of how good people bend over backwards to accommodate the wishes of those around them, at great risk to themselves. Saintliness is the matter of the film and it is not pleasant to watch. Once von Trier realised that he could get such a reaction from his portrayal of women, he has since regularly tortured saintly female leads, most famously Björk in Dancer in the Dark and Nicole Kidman in Dogville. And the Dogville trilogy has of course riled many Americans as it is a work ostensibly examining American society, even though von Trier has never set foot in the country. This is the greatest dummy that he has sold though few people realise it. As with most of his films, von Trier, in Dogville diagnosed the willingness of people to close their minds according to political convenience. In this way he is similar to the Brecht of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (another American-set work written by somebody who had never at the time visited the country). The greatest villain in Dogville is the Clintonian liberal, Thomas Edison (played by Paul Bettany) who compromises himself again and again without ever renouncing his actual convictions. The narrative of Dogville is a masterpiece of withering rhetorical irony. Though it might be argued that von Trier's endemic misanthropy sometimes swings too close to nihilism, there is usually ballast enough to allow his Swiftian outrage to ring true.

The method of von Trier was best exemplified in his film of a couple of years back The Five Obstructions, where he tormented one of his heroes, the Danish filmmaker and writer Jorgen Leth, by instructing him to remake his short film The Perfect Human, a number of times with a different constraint each time. The film shows von Trier up to being an impish prick, intent on breaking any rule of decency in order to get his desired result. A humanist he certainly is not but there is something breathtaking in both the depth of his method and the roughness of his finished work; his films are masterpieces but usually roughly-hewn ones.

Latest up from von Trier is The Boss of it All, a Danish-language, Copenhagen-set film about the trendy owner of an IT company who has always hidden his real ownership of the company from his employees, and who hires an unemployed actor to do the dirty work and lay off those same workers when the time comes to sell the company. Not surprisingly the unfortunate actor, played by Jens Albinus, who was one of the principles in The Idiots, is subjected to the worst abuse by the disgruntled workers. But there are a number of twists effected by the devilish von Trier, which once again displays his interest in the tendency of people to submit themselves unthinkingly to a prevailing truth. Ever the master of the red herring (this is after all, the man who concocted the Dogme hype just to facilitate his own part in it, namely The Idiots, which remains the only indisputably great film to be made under the Dogme strictures) von Trier apologises throughout for the modesty of his enterprise, as if it were one of those 'entertainments' that Graham Greene used to alternate his more serious works with. But we know better than that; everything that takes place onscreen is of the utmost serious, even when it provokes laughter, and much of it is very funny.

I also saw Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal, an adaptation of Zoe Heller's novel, which I had a bad feeling about, expecting it to be the standard TV film offered up by a British filmmaker. But I was pleasantly surprised by this difficult, distasteful film, if that is not all a bit too contradictory to absorb. Cate Blanchett, who Seanachie has been slagging off a bit of late, mainly because of her performance in The Good German is excellent as the teacher who has a fling with one of her teenage students and Judi Dench's performance as the lonely, deluded older teacher, is astounding, disturbing and sad in equal amounts. A lot of people will recognise bits of themselves in her, which is a von Trieresque achievement in itself.