Monday, July 20, 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds

One of those things that remind you there is some justice in the world

Friday, July 17, 2009

Snipping and Sniping

Snip is a nice word. Non-threatening, unless preceded by a 'the' and even then only for males. Snip implies a neat trimming, a clean removal of something that's probably a shade unwieldy, a tad overgrown. It does not imply a complete gutting of a nation's public services and an attack on the incomes of the very worst off in our society. Now before anyone jumps the gun and complains (chance'd be a fine thing), of course I use the word society in a vague sense - clearly Ireland hasn't yet evolved to anything approaching a normal, civilised society. But we'll get to that later.

Since my modest contribution to the blogosphere has yet to reach the dizzy heights of Andrew Sullivan and nobody gets their news from me, I'll assume you're familiar with the findings of the McCarthy Report. This is it, time to stand or fall for this government and though they'll be fortunate to survive it I get the feeling they will. Just. This is the blueprint, or if you're cynical the political cover they need, to cut the deficit by enough that they don't scare the bejesus out of the ECB and the EU and then restore the status quo as quickly as possible. I should declare an interest here - I am Public Sector Scum. And contrary to media coverage, most public servants work hard providing what were already meagre services to the public. Sure there's a good percentage of people who coast, serve no useful function or are just plain incompetent, but isn't that true of all organisations? The commentariat would have you believe that every private sector company is a model of streamlined efficiency staffed by self-motivated, hungry go-getter's. But think about it, think of your own experience with private companies, as an employee or a customer. I mean, have you ever tried getting money back off a private company? Have you ever had thoughts of knifing that twinkly-eyed fucker in the office, who does nothing but sure he's great craic and gets on with the boss, so somehow he keeps his job?

Anyhow, I digress. We keep being told, this is where we are, and we have to start where we are. Well, yes but that's part of the problem. The same shower who got us here now ask us to trust them to get us out again. Now, these people have some choices to make. Are they going to dissolve government departments, merge or abolish some town and county councils, close schools and Garda stations in their own constituencies, reduce their own numbers and salaries and above all, make sure that those who can genuinely afford to contribute more actually pay more? Or are they just going to kick social welfare recipients, the education system and the health service? Given their record, I'll wager a bottle of finest Spanish red that the latter gets implemented in the budget while anything to do with the political system gets lost in some form of additional review process.

The point in all this debate is this. We know who got us here and how it happened. The question now is who is going to pay for it? Twice in a generation Fianna Fail has brought us to the brink of collapse. Last time round, it was the poor and vulnerable, this time round it looks like being the same. In an interview with Vincent Browne, Lenihan had the sheer, unmitigated nerve to say that while it was ok to cut incomes for everyone else, the bonuses, pensions and salaries of corrupt bankers couldn't be cut because "these people have contracts you know". What balls, in every sense. FF have form here, the elite and the higher earners will not pay their fair share in this. An argument is made that even if they did, it wouldn't be enough to get us out of the hole we're in. This is not only bullshit, it is dangerous bullshit. In a recent Sunday Business Post article Brown claimed that those earning over 80,000 a year currently pay about 27% tax. If they paid 42%, the gain to the exchequer would 4.2 billion. Surely worth examining? Even if not to take it to 42%, then grade it and raise, for arguments sake an extra 2.5 billion. That just about covers the proposed cuts in social welfare and education combined. I'll confess, I haven't quite done the math on this one but these are real options that are available to us. Whenever a politician tells me there are no options, I instinctively think "why is this bastard lying to me" and so should you.

This will not happen because of Ireland's grubby little secret. This country doesn't give a damn about its vulnerable or it margins (despite loudly proclaiming the opposite) and that goes for the political class and wider society. When scandals come people are outraged but there is something particular about this society in that it looks away from abuse and injustice. This is a local country for local people and that is why we elect hicks and incompetents who get in because they bring home a few scraps for the constituency, their Dad was a TD, they played for the county, or they'll stick it to them boyo's in Dublin so they will hey. If you elect people to fix potholes, you can't expect them to fix the economy (not my own insight there, but the most succinct analysis I've heard of our electoral process). Over the long term, people do exactly what you pay them to do and this is why we are where are are.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Preaching to the converted?

Vegetarians. Possibly the most preachy people on the planet. No mean feat that, in what I’m sure you’ll agree is a crowded field; what with churches, anti-smokers, pro-lifers and other assorted cranks all ready to demonstrate man’s seemingly endless capacity for self-righteous whining. In restaurants, us carnivore’s have all had the lecture, the"oh-but-if-only­-you-knew" speech and the overwhelming smugness from veggies. Now, the correct response to this is to look, listen, nod, then order the veal anyway. Or whatever on the menu has that killer combination of cuteness times amount of suffering in its short life. They hate that and it’s a legitimate response to someone who is basically trying to ruin your meal. People don’t like preachy. You’d think with all those extra vitamins veggies would get that by now, yet still the whinge. But lo! A ray of hope for all the ones who just can’t quit nagging. I casually mentioned to a friend that I was considering joining the dark side but struggling to do so, not out of any internal moral and ethical struggle, but simply because meat is well, really nice. She spoke about her own struggles with this one and after a while, we agreed to differ. Until she, slyly, sent this to me. And now, I find I have some thinking to do.

Earthlings is a 2003 film that argues we should consider ourselves and animals as equals and stop exploiting them for food, companionship, entertainment, research and clothing. This is does fairly well despite the handicap of being narrated by - pre-crazy - Joaquin Phoenix (Become a vegetarian? Perhaps, but not if that prick tells me to). Mercifully for the film-makers they don’t have to rely on hip-hop’s newest star because this film is never going to be about the script. It’s the images that sear the mind and challenge the viewer. Slaughterhouses are not fun places. There’s a reason people don’t talk about what goes on there, unless they’re vegetarians, because there’s simply no nice way of doing that job. But the casual cruelty of it was truly shocking. If Daisy is going to become a Big Mac, that’s going to involve a fairly bad outcome for her but even still… Scenes of still-kicking cattle being sent down the killing line, piglets with their ears, tails and genitals cut off to allow them to be packed together more tightly, the death marches of cows to provide Indian leather, the destruction of the oceans, unwanted dogs gassed or thrown into rubbish trucks, electrocutions of circus animals to keep them in line... Casual, brutal abuse of creatures and all of it completely unnecessary. The capacity for and level of cruelty was breathtaking. Ok, so none of this is new but we can all have our own personal epiphany right?

So like I say, some thinking to do and uncomfortable questions to answer. Not the usual ones about one person making a difference or what can possibly replace steak and red wine. But really important stuff like will I turn into one of them? Because you know, it’s all well and good protecting animals but it’s important to protect oneself too. And becoming a self-satisfied, smug veggie will surely lead to a significant loss of self respect, not to mention dinner invitations. But Andy, I hear you say, just go veggie without the smugness! Problem solved? No. Such a combination has never occurred.