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Shelby County Courthouse, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
"So what's the surpri... Was that a click?"

This is worrying stuff.

You’d hardly notice, but we’re being asked to change the Constitution this Thursday. Twice. Yet nobody is acting like this is much of a deal. The amendments are being thrown in with the Presidential election like some sort of democratic side order, and getting about as much attention. This despite the fact that a Constitutional amendment actually, you know, changes something, while a ceremonial President – in spite of the impression they try to create in their election campaigns – can change about bugger all.

These are not trivial matters either. One would remove the bar on reductions to the pay of judges, something placed in the Constitution deliberately to prevent the sitting government pressuring the judiciary. The other would allow the houses of the Oireachtas¹ to conduct their own quasi-judicial investigations. That would seem to give them quite a lot of power. How much? Well according to part of the proposed amendment:

4º It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2º applies.’

So only the Oireachtas can say how much power it can give itself. Though it is of course restricted by law. Which the Oireachtas also creates.

Yes parliaments often have powers of investigation, but this seems very broadly drawn, and likely to make power in this country even more unbalanced. Government in a democracy is generally divided into three main branches: The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. There is meant to be a measure of conflict between these roles, in order to ensure that everyone is watching what everyone is up to.

We’re a parliamentary democracy though; that immediately reduces internal contention because it means there is no effective difference between the executive and the legislature. Unlike countries with an executive presidency such as France or the US, the legislature elects the executive – which then pretty much dictates everything else the legislature does.

Another safety mechanism is a bicameral legislature; two houses each with oversight of the other – House/Senate, Commons/Lords, etc. Our upper house though is effectively the creation of the executive, which appoints the majority of its members. So no balance there either; whatever party wins most seats in an election just sweeps the board of executive and both houses.

That only leaves the judiciary as an independent power, and we are being asked to pass two amendments to our constitution, one of which will take away its chief protection against undue government pressure, the other of which will usurp some of its functions. Still wonder why I’m worried?

 

  1. Parliament/Congress

I Like Your Haircut

Ghost?!
So lenders are being shorn. The haircut the public are expected to take looks more like this

Sixty percent – the haircut that lenders to Greece may have to take if Europe is to avoid bailing their economy out to the tune of half a trillion. Maybe the powers that be – the ‘troika’ of the IMF, the commission, and the ECB – are finally coming to terms with the idea that crushing all life out of a country with punitive austerity makes about as much sense as treating traumatic blood loss with leeches. If the eurozone economies are to be saved then the continent’s major banks are going to have to take some of the pain too.

For Greece only, you understand. The same logic doesn’t apply to us for some reason.

A patient at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Louth, just spent five days on a trolley in the Accident and Emergency department. In better days that would have constituted a horror story in itself, but today it barely raises an eyebrow. Wait till you find out what he had. TB. Tuberculosis. There in public, with a constant flow of sick and injured people around him.

The devastation that TB wrought on this country, that’s still a living memory. It was one of the primary forces that led to the creation of what social health provision we had. Which is now in danger of being sacrificed to expediency – and banks. Banks that lent recklessly into our economy because they were out to make a profit, yet somehow must not be allowed to take a loss.

The Death Of The Killer

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The most shocking of all images of Gaddafi - as a sane, smiling human being

I.Doubt.It is pleased to announce that we for one will not be showing you pictures of Muammar Gaddafi’s damaged corpse. Why so squeamish, some ask. Are we too sheltered from death? I think not. We all come across plenty real death in our lives, not least our own, and we are saturated with incredible amounts of fake death in the guise of entertainment.

It’s just decency. I think all humans feel that the dead deserve a measure of respect. As far as we can tell even our closest relatives like homo erectus, who used tools and fire and probably spoke, did not do anything with the bodies of their dead. Nomads, they simply moved on, leaving corpses where they lay. With sadness no doubt, but without ceremony. By contrast all humans, even those who have no belief in an afterlife, treat the bodies of the dead with a special respect – when they can. It appears to be an instinct, one unique to our species.

So when we turn images of real dead people into a lurid form of quasi-entertainment, parading them for shock, sales, or triumphalism, it is quite literally dehumanising.

I’m not surprised that they killed him of course. It’s a war. Should we care that they did? Yes. We should always care that the right thing is done. And I don’t think it was here. Gaddafi died in custody. According to the BBC, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud…

…confirmed that Col Gaddafi had been taken alive, but died of bullet wounds minutes before reaching hospital.

It remains unclear just how and when Gaddafi got those bullet wounds.

Nonetheless this is good news for Libya, and I hope an example for the rest of the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, leaders stepped down in the face of mass protest and are alive to this day. Gaddafi clung to power, and was shot in the belly and head. That may give other dictators – like, say, Syria‘s Assad –  something to sleep on.

Who Wants To Kill Dana?

puncture
Unlimited metaphors for Dana campaign now available

I hope it was none of you. I’d be very upset if one of my readers took it all too seriously and tried to assassinate Dana. That’s wrong and stupid. What if you failed and she got in on a wave of sympathy?

OK, I wouldn’t joke about this if I thought it was for real. Or at least I’d make different jokes. But it’s not real. No one was trying to rub out Dana. Maybe it isn’t hard to imagine someone with a grudge against the Catholic church having a stab at her tyres, but who stops at stabbing just one? And anyway, that’s no assassination attempt. Unless of course they had the expertise to damage a tyre just enough to cause it to blow out later when moving at high speed. You know, the kind of expertise that doesn’t exist.

No. The Scallons had a blowout. Unusual, but they happen. That they should even speculate that it was some sort of assassination attempt tells us all we… well, all we already knew about their grasp of reality.

Let’s pass over this sideshow, and concentrate on keeping Fianna Fáil the hell out of the Park.

 

The Fianna Fáil Revival Starts Here

LOL (Laughing Out Loud) - Bertie Ahern
Image by infomatique via Flickr

I don’t know what Bertie Ahern‘s balls are made of, but perhaps we should be using it to generate nuclear energy. For they are massive. He told us today that not preventing the national economic collapse was the fault of the media, because they were too preoccupied with investigating his wrongdoing.

No that’s just awesome. Even Berlusconi must have gasped.

It’s utter nonsense of course. The media were full of voices shouting stop – certainly more so than government. Mr. Ahern is living out a self-justifying fantasy, and his words are as relevant now as, well, pretty much anything else said by a member of Fianna Fáil. With the obvious exception of course of Seán Gallagher. Yes, I think we can regard him as a member still. Though it appears he did resign both from his cumainn¹ and the party’s national executive, he hasn’t exactly distanced himself from the organisation, launching the campaigns of FF party candidates – presumably for a fee – as recently as six months ago.

It looks very likely therefore that his split with the party was not moral or ideological, but pragmatic. He wanted to be elected. To have any chance, he had to lose the stinking albatross-corpse of a Fianna Fáil ticket. And the ruse seems to have worked. People say they will vote for the honestly-really-not-Fianna-Fáil candidate. I don’t know what to say, you’re all mad. Mad, or masochists.

Rather like McGuinness², he’s building foundations for his party’s eventual rehabilitation. Unlike McGuinness though, he might actually win. And if he does, what are the odds of him returning to the party – in a greatly enhanced role – just as soon as his term is over? If not sooner.

  1. Local party branch.
  2. Sinn Fein’s presidential candidate.

Diary Of A Frightened Man 5 – The Zone

Picture the scene. I’m doing a practice run with my driving instructor. I am a cat-bag of nerves, slopping adrenaline, making error after error. The lessons of the preceding ten months, the intense practice I’d done in the last weeks and days, are coming to nothing. I was forgetting to signal, forgetting my mirrors when stopping and turning, riding the clutch, coasting… The inattentive habits I’d worked like hell to eradicate were all back, all at once.

Nerves were making everything seem to happen too fast to control. Who can possibly look in a mirror, make the correct signal, look in another mirror, depress a clutch pedal, let up an accelerator, select the right gear, apply a little brake, let up the clutch pedal gently but not too slowly, steer, look in every possible direction for hazards, and pay attention to where you’re going all in the correct order and in such quick succession that you’re actually doing several of them at once? Ridiculous. It can’t be done. And that’s just one corner.

Then the heavens open. And not in the good way where divine providence looks down and beams me out of there. That I could’ve used. As in torrential rain. Torrential by Irish standards remember; a country where we say it’s fine if it’s only raining a bit. Some of you live places where weather like this would constitute a national emergency. Visibility was suddenly non-existent, the heater struggled to keep the windows demisted but succeeded only in making the car unbearable, conditions became hazardous and continued into ludicrous. I am dispirited. It’s not enough that I’m driving like a brain-damaged chicken, I now have to ford a flooded road to even reach the test centre.

I think to myself, I did not pick a good day to book a driving test.

So what happened next was quite weird. But it is what often happens in these situations. You could call it correct fear. Suddenly the adrenal glands stop being an impediment and start doing their job of maintaining my balance on the tightrope of concentration. All the hours of practice come back to me now. Instead of everything happening at once, there seems to be time to do it all. It’s… almost boring. Intense yet slow, like a black and white film. I’m no longer desperately worried about my driving test, because I’m doing my driving test. I’m in The Zone – one of those rare times when you live completely in the present.And in the present, there’s time for everything.

It was not perfect however. I made one mistake so bad that as soon as we were through the tester started giving me a hard time about it. My heart sank. And then it began to dawn on me that if I’d failed, he wouldn’t be bothering to give me a hard time about one mistake.

I am a driver now.

Diary Of A Frightened Man 4

Drove Road.
I think I'm lost

Sorry no blog post today. Instead I drove. And drove and drove and drove and drove and drove. Tomorrow is the test. I am just in bed now, entering into a state of profound preparatory relaxation. Ha.

But I am… almost confident. I feel I’m a far safer driver than last time. I’m a lot clearer about what you’re supposed to do with a car. But there’s still the worry that in one moment of inattention I could make a simple error and blow the whole thing.

One such error of course would be to sleep late and fail to turn up. So… Wish me luck.