An Open Letter To Fianna Fáil Voters

Letter to FF CartoonFor you who have voted Fianna Fáil come rain or shine, this must be the most difficult election you have ever had to face. In Irish politics, loyalty is a massive factor. For many their party is up there with religion, country, family, team. It’s an identity that has been with them all their life – or longer.

But more than just identity, it’s an active relationship. There is give and take. Fianna Fáil – indeed most Irish political parties – like to cultivate the myth that they will reward your personal loyalty with personal preferential treatment. In the overwhelming majority of cases they do no more than get their secretaries to make the same call to a government department that you could have made yourself, but many prefer the personal attention of a TD. And the TD knows that people really will reward that attention with a vote, even if they are getting nothing they’re not entitled to. Indeed if a TD did break the rules to favour you over your neighbour they would be guilty of corruption. So would you.

Real corruption is rarely so direct – and rarely comes as cheap as a vote. It’s a daily fog in politics, a subtle miasma of moral compromises. Why not help out a friend who’s making their way in business or finance? Your decision will favour someone or other, so it may as well be someone you know. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? Personal loyalty. And then when you leave government, why not accept a seat on the board of a company you may in some small way have helped become what it is today? And sure when the company has another problem, are you not going to be meeting an old colleague from the party only next week?

So through a friendly process of decent personal loyalty, we find ourselves in a situation where a lot of our representatives ended up surprisingly rich, and the interests of banking and property were put before the interests of people. And that includes those people who voted for them, for years and for generations. Loyal Fianna Fáil voters are lying on trolleys in every hospital in the country. Where we are now is where loyalty got us. Ruined, indebted, dependent, shamed.

I know it will be hard when you see the face you know on the ballot, but I beg of you to leave them off your vote completely. There is a real danger that so many people will feel sorry for Fianna Fáil in their defeat that they will actually do far better than expected. If they are ever going to change, that must not happen. They were a great party at one time, they did many good things for ordinary people over the years. If they are ever going to be great again – good for the people who gave them their loyalty rather than good just for the wealthy – they first need to spend time in the wilderness, thinking about what they have done.


Sod You, Dick Roche

Roche CartoonDick Roche, the junior minister who claimed €50k in mileage in two years, has reacted to the defacing of his posters by overlaying it with a sticker saying “This Poster Was DEFACED By People Who Oppose Democracy”.

No Mini-ster. Come here, let me explain something to you in the eccentric capitalization you understand.

That Poster Was Defaced By People Who Oppose YOU.

That poster was defaced by people who are outraged at what you and your party have done to their democracy. By people who are going to rid their democracy of you and of the likes of you.

That poster was defaced by voters.


And The Difference Is You

Tank CartoonA miserable start to the day yesterday, finding that what I’d described as the worst-case scenario was precisely what had happened. Not only did Nokia go into partnership with Microsoft, but they’re surrendering – discarding – their own OS development. But by the early afternoon, Egypt had been liberated from tyranny.

Kind of puts the demise of Symbian in perspective.

Well, it’s the transitional military government type of liberation, but I don’t want to talk about the walls left to climb just yet. I just want to congratulate the people in Egypt on their new country. And on having the incredible determination and patience and bravery to face down their dictator, and do it without violence.

As someone said – on Twitter – don’t call it the Twitter revolution, or the Facebook revolution, or the internet revolution. People did it.



So How Should I Vote, Mr. Internet?

Posters are going up. Then blowing down. Then going up again. A lot of them are for independent candidates, which I think is great. Ideally we’d throw out every member of every party and start over with a Dáil full of people who are allowed to think. Though be careful – there are some out there who may appear to be independent but are just printing the words “Fianna Fáil” very, very small.

Poster CartoonThe one I see around here most is Noel Grealish¹. Well technically he’s independent, but being the guy left behind when the party’s over is not what that word usually brings to mind. There are plenty more independent independents out there, and I may vote for them all. Though one did annoy me today by thinking that a good place for a poster was a dangerous bend in the road.² Sure, people do slow down there. But we really shouldn’t be reading.

A couple of years back, shortly after the collapse, a Fianna Fáil woman was picking a fight with me in a wine bar late one night. “But who else is there?” was her refrain. Of course she wanted me to name some other party so she could argue that they were just as bad.³ I wasn’t having that. My answer was “Anyone. Anyone would be better than Fianna Fáil. You. Me. Some stranger off the street. Citizens selected by lottery. Anyone.”

I believed that passionately then, and even more now. Fianna Fáil’s central problem is that they have been in power too much. It leads not only to corruption, but to a different way of thinking. They come to inhabit a different culture – a ruling culture. We see it now in their inability to really grasp how betrayed the country feels.

But who do you actually vote for? The alternatives are, frankly, not terribly inspiring. Well we are blessed in this country with one of the best voting systems in the world. Yes it does have its disadvantages and probably could use some reform – though I certainly wouldn’t blame it for all the failings in our political culture – but while we still have it, we ought to make the best of it.

(For overseas readers: In brief, we vote by numbering the candidates in order of preference. I hope to explain the system better in the next day or so.)

You know who you’re against, but not who you’re for? I can sympathize – but it really doesn’t matter. One thing that makes the system great is that you can effectively vote against a party. If you just put the candidates in random order, leaving out the Fianna Fáil ones, you’ve made it that bit harder for FF to reach a quota.

It is better to have a real order of preference of course. That can become quite a game of skill, but there’s one good move that everyone should know: If you give your “Number One” to a candidate you expect to be elected, you’re virtually throwing it away. Electing someone is the last thing your vote should do. Well, perhaps the second or third last.

There is almost no such thing as a “wasted vote” in the Irish system. Your vote can always end up with an elected candidate if you wish. But once it does, it’s more or less finished. Yes, if a candidate gets more votes than the quota the surplus is distributed, but the actual ballots passed on are chosen randomly so the chances of yours being among them are poor. If your first candidate is eliminated however, your vote always passes on to your next choice. Line them up carefully and it can boost the chances of a whole series of protest or independent candidates before winding up with an elected one.

So you should never, ever not vote for a candidate because you think they have no chance. You lose nothing by trying it, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

  1. The last of the Progressive Democrats, a ‘New Right’ conservative party who are very much over.
  2. That last bad corner between Headford and Corrandulla, if you’re thinking of moving it.
  3. Well I suppose at the time she would have argued that they were actually worse, but “just as bad” is as high as a FF supporter dare shoot for these days.
Politics Technology

Tiananmen II?

It says "Thank You, Facebook"

Well it looks like my worst fears didn’t materialize. Things seem… hopeful in Egypt, though I’m almost superstitiously scared of using that word. Hope is after all a game we play with ourselves, almost a form of masochism. Is it crazy of me to see Tahrir Square as Tiananmen 2 – This Time, The Good Guys Win? Even to find, in that crushing of protesters beneath a government truck, a weird reversal of the “Tank Man” incident?

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

But our future is being created now, in the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria. There’s a choice to be made between the explosive pressures of repression and the release of revolution, and that choice is not ours. About the best we can do is cheer from the sidelines.

But that is not nothing. I’m remembering the role that the Internet has played in this uprising and other struggles like it. One telling event: China has blocked web searches for “Egypt”. Meanwhile our governments move ever closer to a policed, regulated Internet just like they have in these fantastic countries. What can we do about this? Resist, through every legal means.

Today I came across one simple way that everyone can adopt.

Do you get paranoid about the way Google, Microsoft and other search providers record all your searches, creating a frighteningly accurate portrait of your inner life? Well I bet you do now. And not just the terms you used but the sites you chose to visit from the search results, all tied to your computer’s Internet (IP) address – or if you have say a Google account, directly to your name. It’s creepy that it can be used to target advertising at you. What’s worse though is that if some authority like the US Department of Justice happens to want to know about you, Google et al. are quite happy to hand it over. It’s their government after all. Not such a worry for you and me – perhaps. Somewhat more of a concern to a political dissident under a regime that the US might be backing.

What can you do? You can use something like Startingpage. Essentially, this does a Google search for you. It gives you the same results, but as far as Google can tell it was Startingpage that requested them, not you.

Even better though, you can then go to the websites in the results using an “anonymizing proxy”, which hides your address not just from Google but also the site you visit. And if you want to be über-paranoid you can do it all over a secure Internet connection (https), the same as you’d use when making a credit card transaction, so even a third party eavesdropping on your connection can’t tell where you’re going.

There are other similar services available, but I was impressed by how easy Startingpage is. You simply select it as your search engine, the same way as you’d choose between Google, Bing or Yahoo. It works with all the best-known browsers (except the Windows version of Safari for some reason, but who uses that?), and you can search from the address bar in Firefox with it too. It seems to be just as fast as Google, though there is a slight delay if you use the encrypted version. I’m using it for all searching now, and I can strongly recommend it. Such a service is of enormous value to criminals, perverts, terrorists and anyone else who wants to remain free.


Cosmography Politics

More Art, More Science, More Egypt

The Science Gallery
It's This Shape On The Inside Too

I worried I was unfair to Dublin’s Science Gallery so I went back. I’m glad I did, because I was. There is actually a second floor to the place, it was closed because the exhibition was not completely mounted when I wandered in.

I do have my questions about the art on display in the ‘Visceral‘ exhibition, but that’s no bad thing by any means. I urge you to see it for yourself, there’s thought-provoking stuff there. Thought-provoking as in machines guided by rat neurons and bacterial colonies growing into pictures, so it’s well worth arguing over whether it is art, science, or a load of toss. But I’m glad it exists.

But Back To Egypt

Just a couple of hours ago, Egypt swore in the head of the intelligence services as Vice-President. That hardly seems like a move towards a more democratic government, but it may be a way to transition from Mubarak’s rule with the minimum possible fuss.

It could also be seen as the introduction of military dictatorship in all but appearance, with the army’s man rather than a general in uniform taking the helm. It’s inevitable that the military will be power brokers here; just about everything depends on whether they accept the legitimacy of Mubarak’s orders. The next question is whether the military will then support a transition to democracy. There is the possibility that they would simply create a new dictatorship, and tell the people and the rest of the world that we have to support it or the Islamists will take over.

If we accepted that, we’d be betraying the people of Egypt. This is not an uprising in favour of Islamic rule – and certainly, not of military rule. It’s a rejection of oppression, and it’s up to us in democratic countries to demonstrate to the Egyptians that we too are against oppression.

We are, aren’t we?

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