Scléip na seachtaine

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And now it’s time to return to local news, with a few little vignettes from recent days illustrating life in Our Wee Pravince.

First up, I suppose, is the small riot at a meeting of Limavady council the other night, when PSF councillors were chivvied by a 70-strong loyalist mob who had turned up for the meeting. This sort of thing used to happen regularly at Belfast City Hall, but it hadn’t been heard of at council meetings in the recent past. What was going on here?

Well, apparently nationalist councillors had been questioning whether having things like pictures of the Royal Family adorning council property was quite in the spirit of equality that our New Dispensation is supposed to enshrine. I actually though the Fair Employment Act had dealt with those issues twenty-odd years ago, but maybe there’s a time lag out in the sticks. Similarly, demographic changes in the Leap of the Dog mean that the local council now has a nationalist majority, something Limavady Prods have a hard time accepting. At least the unionist councillors holding forth on the mob’s feeling that their identity was being taken away ran true to form.

Then we have Wallace Thompson. “Who he?” you may ask, and I confess I had never heard of the bloke either. But he popped up on the wireless representing something called the Evangelical Protestant Society, giving off about the Church of Ireland. Apparently the gift shop at the CoI cathedral in Armagh had been selling rosary beads, and to Mr Thompson this was an unacceptable concession to ecumenism and idolatrous popery. Mr Thompson went on to describe Pope Benny as the Antichrist, and promised to fight tooth and nail to prevent the mooted papal visit to the North.

To those of us who regularly listen to local radio, this is all pretty standard boilerplate. I mean to say, tune in to Talk Back for a week and you’ll quickly become inured to sectarian wingnuts. What caused a fuss, and catapulted the story onto the front page of the Telegraph, was the revelation that Mr Thompson is a special advisor to enterprise minister Nigel Dodds (DUP). And in fact his comments would have been more or less typical of DUP discourse a few years back. But just slightly embarrassing for a party attempting to shed its sectarian cornerboy image.

Meanwhile, the peelers were getting politically correct. Norn Iron’s cops have been instructed not to use derogatory terms like “fenian” or “hun”, as they may be perceived to be sectarian. So speaks the PSNI’s Directorate of the Bleeding Obvious.

And then we have the much-delayed appointment of the Victims’ Commissioner. Regular readers will recall that some time ago I suggested that, as nobody can agree who actually is a victim of the Troubles, our joint presidency of Big Ian and Marty should appoint two joint commissioners. Actually, it seems they will now be appointing not one, not two, but four commissioners with equal standing. Seeing how this is exactly the sort of harebrained scheme that UN diplomats in Phnom Penh or Sarajevo might cook up, I suppose it at least shows the Chuckle Brothers have assimilated modern theories of peacemaking.

Finally, there is Donald Trump. You’ll recall that, at the time of the Chuckle Brothers’ recent visit to the States, the Donald had suffered a brush-off from Aberdeenshire councillors who didn’t want his monstrous golf resort on their doorsteps. Never one to miss an opportunity, Papa Doc lobbied the Donald to build the resort in North Antrim instead. And so it has come to pass that the Donald’s representative, one George Sorial, has been in Norn Iron scouting out locations.

In fact, Mr Sorial was even received at Stormont by our devolved rulers. I was also intrigued by his comments to the effect that Trumpland might be built in partnership with a local developer. As luck would have it, I can think of a developer in North Antrim who might be interested in a piece of the action…

He’s got an ology, you know

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It’s a rum business, fish. I mean, one recognises that the broad masses must have their fish. But let’s say that your daily routine involves springing out of bed at 4am so you can hove down to Billingsgate Market and spend a pleasant several hours up to your knees in dead whitebait. After a certain amount of this, the entertainment value starts to pall and you begin to look on fish with a jaundiced eye. But still, you soldier on in the stoic recognition that it is necessary the proletariat have their fish. Sometimes I feel a bit like that when it comes to writing on the left, which is why I haven’t done it for a while. Nonetheless, I suppose it is this blog’s bread and butter, and I would have to come back to it at some point.

To start at a bit of a tangent, you will be aware that some universities, even in the age of academic downsizing, offer a subject called Philosophy of Science. This is not to be confused with actual science – scientists, on the rare occasions they come into contact with PoS, tend to think it a bit weird and not at all related to what they’re doing. Of course, the Philosophy part of the title is the operative bit. PoS, to cut a long story short, is the creation of Bertrand Russell types attempting to build up another bulwark against the perennial foe of philosophical scepticism, nowadays trading as postmodernism. Its connection to science per se is usually platonic.

You get something rather similar, in a low-rent kind of way, with Marxists who reckon that Marxism provides them with a golden key to understanding everything. A lot of this is the fault of Engels, an enthusiasic dabbler in science who liked to claim that scientific advances vindicated Marxism. As a result, lots of Marxists maintain an amateurish interest in science. This would be fine if it wasn’t for their assumption that they – or rather their gurus – understood science better than scientists. It’s worth noting at this point that few scientists join Marxist groups.

So, let’s take as an example the dialectic. On a philosophical level, and in the hands of an accomplished practitioner like Plekhanov, Deborin or Mao, the dialectic can be an elegant intellectual tool for understanding the world. In the wrong hands – and if you don’t believe me, read Studies in Dialectical Materialism by Gerry Healy – it can be a tool for mystification. But that’s not the point. Take the four so-called laws of the dialectic. According to the precepts of diamat, these are the laws of everything. Now try and pitch that to a practising scientist, and you will almost invariably find she stares at you as if you were an acolyte of L Ron Hubbard or Hare Krishna.

And rightly so. The various scientific disciplines work along their own tracks. They have trouble enough respecting each other’s laws, let alone philosophical schemata put forward by people, moreover, who have a track record of lapsing into the realms of mysticism. Furthermore, the scientific method, to the extent you can talk of a coherent method, is experimental, empricial and evidence-based. And that is why you’ll have trouble finding any scientists who will give house room to diamat.

(Parenthetically, there may be some exceptions among theoretical physicists. I continue to hold that Deborin’s attempt in 1929-31 to make diamat the basis of theoretical physics was no more than theoretical physicists deserve, because as a group they do have a tendency to go in for metaphysical speculation rather a lot. Biologists don’t do that. My own subject, as it happens, was chemistry, which is the most empirical of the lot. Add liquid A to liquid B and see if they go boom.)

This does not, of course, hold back our Marxists. Some readers may be familiar with the volume Reason in Revolt by Grant and Woods. In it, Ted and Alan pontificate on modern scientific controversies around things like time travel and chaos theory. It’s not as bad a book as it’s sometimes made out to be, and there is interesting stuff in it, but it doesn’t really convince as an attempt to marry Marxism to science. Although I would say that Ted and Alan’s insistence that scientific advances vindicate Marxism does, at least, place them squarely in the tradition of Engels.

Now, at the risk of winding Richard up, let’s consider for a moment scientific discourse in the Socialist Workers Party. This is an outfit with no programme, but with a multitude of informal “lines” on the most esoteric of subjects, including lots of subjects there is no conceivable justification for a left group having a “line” on. Many of these “lines” are based on nothing more than the subjective opinion of this or that CC member, most notably perhaps Renaissance Man Chris Harman, who has a ready-made opinion on everything under the sun.

Thus it is that you get the emergence of a party “line” on, say, genetics or evolutionary biology, and not only that, but a “line” that contradicts the existing scientific consensus. A lot of this can be traced back to the Cliff method of fighting an undesirable position by back-forming a theory that is supposed to preclude that position. The debate over the “gay gene” is a case in point. The possibility that there is a genetic component to homosexuality doesn’t necessarily, or even probably, lead to the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific theories of degeneracy, but it’s another thing to say that, in order to avoid these undesirable outcomes, we should reject scientific theories on ideological grounds.

Look, we all know about past and present abuses of science. But in the last analysis there is no “right” or “left” science, only good or bad science. To hear folks with degrees in politics or sociology give out about “bourgeois science” or “reactionary science”, which happens much more often than I’d like, is funny only because the left is small and impotent. If the far left, with its current culture, attitudes and prejudices, ever got a sniff of power… who said Lysenkoism was dead?

Popeye the sailor man

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And to return to the US elections, a couple of links that readers may find interesting. I’ve long found CounterPunch to be invaluable for following American politics, so that was the first place I turned when looking to find out about the Ron Paul candidacy, and how a slice of the American left finds itself supporting a Republican, and an anti-abortion, anti-gay, evolution-denying Texas Republican at that. Of course Ron may be bonkers, but he does have his principles. This article from Sherry Wolf is as good a leftist analysis as I’ve come across.

Meanwhile, over at the compulsively readable antiwar.com, the always trenchant Justin Raimondo tells it like it is about John McCain and the War Party. Enjoy!

But still in dreams in the night beheld he the crimson light

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Amongst all the excitement around the US election, it’s easy to forget that politics goes on in less important countries. Currently, for instance, the presidential election in Serbia, which is fascinating in a number of ways. Latest news is that we are heading for a run-off between incumbent president Boris Tadić and his perennial opponent Tomislav Nikolić, leader pro tem of the Radical Party while Vojislav Šešelj remains sequestered by the Hague Inquisition.

Let me say at the outset, or before Jim Denham denounces me as a fascist at any rate, that I’m not in the normal run of things a great enthusiast for the Serbian Radicals. I’m not exactly an ideological soulmate of the SRS, and the party contains a lot of, shall we say, colourful characters that people worrying about their respectability might like to avoid. So why do I find myself warming slightly to these fuckers?

Mostly, I have to say, this is down to spite. And very largely it’s down to the Empire’s definition of “democracy”, which acquires a specialist meaning when it comes to Serbia. “Democracy” in this context means that the Radicals must never be allowed to form a government no matter how many votes they get. Hence the frenzied activity from the diplomatic SWAT teams in Belgrade, most notably the EU scheduling accession talks for between the two rounds so as to benefit Tadić. At least that’s the theory – with support for EU membership bobbing around the 50% mark, we shall see whether being the Empire-backed candidate proves a vote-winner.

Ah, you might say, but the SRS is a pretty nasty outfit – just look at the activities of paramilitaries not a million miles from the SRS in the Bosnian war – so isn’t it justified to keep these guys out of power? I don’t deny the force of this argument, but it might hold more water if it wasn’t for plenty of other dodgy characters in the Balkan region being fully rehabilitated as “democrats”. And if US and EU diplomats in Sofia hadn’t spent over a decade agitating to keep the Bulgarian Socialist Party out of power. The BSP, by the way, dumped its old Stalinism pretty quickly and has long since been a moderate social democratic party, but it was believed by the Big Civilised Powers to be too responsive to the concerns of its voters. QED.

Bulgaria, in case you’ve forgotten, is an actual member of the EU. Some other recent entrants, notably the Romanians and the Slovaks, have had bruising experiences of being treated like redheaded stepchildren by Old Europe, which, EU rhetoric aside, continues to view the Ruritanian states to the east as not quite up to snuff. And even that isn’t enough for some of our more virulent interventionists – one notes our old chum Marko Attila Hoare calling for Brussels to get tough with Greece, apparently on the general principle that the uppity Orthodox need to be taught their place.

So let’s get back to Serbia. I have no doubt that the Powers, not to mention their cheerleaders, would really like to see Čeda Jovanović, the candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party, in the top job. Young Čeda, who is invariably described as “charismatic” by the London and Washington media, was a protégé of slain prime minister Zoran “Little Slobo” Djindjić, and is a strong partisan of Serbia going along with whatever the Empire wants. This means singing the praises of the “free market”, which means cutting social programmes and flogging off state assets to US and EU corporations rather than the Russians. It means getting into the EU, which regards Serbia as a coconut colony, and NATO, which actually bombed the country not many years ago. It means immediate independence for the mafia-run province of Kosovo. Unfortunately for Čeda, though this stuff will get him good press abroad and the plaudits of the swankier end of Belgrade’s café society, it cuts little ice with the peasants.

Which is why the Empire is lumbered with poor old Boris Tadić, who is a waffling surrender monkey rather than an enthusiastic surrender monkey. Boris will usually do what the “international community” wants if he’s put under enough pressure, but he also wants the great unwashed to vote for him. Which is why the Yanks and EU have pressurised the Kosovo mafiosi into delaying their declaration of independence until Boris is safely re-elected. And what’s on offer there is what the Powers are calling “supervised independence”, which is not what the Albanian separatists want, and this most likely means a repeat of the 2004 pogrom of non-Albanians is on the cards.

And what of Nikolić? Well, Nikolić is no pearl of great price to say the least, but he has one thing going for him. That is that he isn’t a surrender monkey, which is why the Powers have determined he can’t be allowed to win. More to the point, there is an alternative programme on offer to simply going along with Washington and Brussels. Nikolić is nowhere near as stridently anti-EU as he used to be, but his support for national sovereignty and his call for closer ties with Russia and other countries that don’t regard Serbia as the Heart of Darkness has a lot of resonance. It also exerts a pull on the supporters of prime minister Vojislav Koštunica, a layer who will act as kingmakers.

Why is this important? As Nebojša Malić perceptively points out, this is a rare case in these times of voters actually having a choice between different policies and programmes. American voters don’t get that kind of choice, nor do their counterparts in Britain or Ireland, and in most of continental Europe the acceptable spectrum of political opinion is narrowing daily. And our leaders have the cheek to lecture countries where there still is a choice on the low quality of their democracy. Mar dhea!

And if you have the language skills, as ever there is plenty of intelligent commentary to be found on NSPM.

Baby Doc and the North Antrim pork barrel

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And we can’t forget the big local story of the week, namely Ian Óg Paisley’s, shall we say, idiosyncratic approach to peace negotiations. This has come to the fore thanks to Prodiban leader Jim Allister who, despite having the charisma of an oven glove, is doing his damnedest to turn a by-election to Banbridge council into a battle for the soul of unionism.

Wee Ian, so it transpires, went along to the St Andrew’s negotiations with a list of six demands in his back pocket, and got reassurances on them from the then direct rule administration. None of these demands had anything to do with the political process, by the way. What they had to do with was improving the lot of North Antrim. In particular, improving the lot of one person in North Antrim, namely property developer and DUP member Seymour Sweeney, who has already managed to land Baby Doc in the soup. Indeed, we hear that the Giant’s Causeway project featured heavily in the little list.

In related news, Environment Minister Arlene “Stonewall” Foster (DUP) has given a brilliant demonstration of why, in my opinion, the Stormont Executive should be renamed the Procrastination Committee. The Assembly environment committee, or to be more precise the SDLP, PSF and OUP members making up a majority of said committee, has voted to compel Mrs Foster to release papers relating to the Causeway visitors’ centre. This is unlikely to happen, firstly because under Article 44 the compulsion would have to come from Assembly Speaker Willie Hay (DUP), and secondly because Arlene says she hasn’t made a decision. She has only stated that she is “minded” to give Mr Sweeney the contract.

Here’s a modest suggestion. Next time the DUP are in negotiations, wouldn’t it be an idea to retain the services of Tony Gregory?

Taking the pith

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One of the great things about British politics, and the southern Seanad really can’t compare here, is in the job opportunities available to failed politicians. If you’ve failed at a relatively high level, you can then not only get into the Lords, pick up some lucrative directorships or make money on the after-dinner speaking circuit, but the government will find you some berth on the European gravy train or heading up a quango.

Take failed Labour leader Neil Kinnock. He, of course, got packed off to Brussels as a European commissioner. But I hadn’t heard about him for quite a while until last night, when he popped up on Channel 4 News to discuss the ongoing diplomatic row with Russia. Somewhat to my surprise, it turns out that Lord Kinnock is head of the British Council. What qualifies him for that job beats me, but there you go.

For failed Lib Dem leaders, on the other hand, there may be a specialist niche developing as colonial governors. I refer of course to Comber man Paddy Pantsdown. You’ll recall Paddy’s stint as King of Bosnia, where he distinguished himself mainly by sabotaging the peace accord he was supposed to be implementing, while sacking elected politicians who wanted the accord implemented. And, having shown that novel approach to peacemaking, word reaches us that Lord Pantsdown is now to be appointed UN special envoy to Afghanistan, as if the Afghans hadn’t suffered enough. Paddy had best watch out he doesn’t get kidnapped by mad mullahs, or end up with his head shrunken.

From the way the Lib Dems are going through leaders these days, it’s almost a pity that there aren’t many British colonies left. I suppose we must trust in the Yanks to create more protectorates. Perhaps W will have a crack at Iran before he leaves office, or perhaps when Hillary becomes empress she can pick up Bill’s legacy by having some more comic-opera wars in the Balkans. Do I hear Lord Kennedy of Skopje, or possibly Lord Campbell of Novi Pazar?

The eagerly anticipated return of Torchwood

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And so Torchwood is back, on BBC2 now, and let’s see if they can get it right this time. I lost interest about halfway through the last series, having coasted along up till then on the show’s energy and on its wild eclecticism. It may be spun off from Doctor Who, but it also contains a huge amount of plagiarism of Buffy (the Hellmouth being relocated to Cardiff), a little touch of Kolchak for viewers old enough to remember that classic, and, as Charlie Brooker pointed out, more than a hint of Scooby-Doo, with our intrepid team of paranormal investigators zooming around town in their SUV. And for all that, it didn’t quite work.

So there are three things I want from a new series of Torchwood. First, it has to be funnier. I know it’s supposed to be the “adult” spin-off of Who, but that seems to have translated into being “dark”. Much as I love classic noir, and modern noir if it’s done well, I bloody hate this current craze for everything being “dark”. To take a comics analogy, Batman is dark and Daredevil is dark, but if you’re making the Fantastic Four dark then you’re missing the point. (Though tell that to Marvel, who seem to have thought turning one of their few happy-go-lucky heroes into Dark Speedball was a dandy idea. I think it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.) But to get back to Torchwood, I suppose it’s lumbered with a noir visual style, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fair bit of humour. I mean to say, if you have an essentially panto character like Captain Jack in the lead, played by West End song and dance man John Barrowman, you’re on a hiding to nothing making him dour. You’re not making Taggart here.

Which leads me to my second point, that it should be gayer. Again, with the combination of Russell T Davies and John Barrowman, this should be a no-brainer. Part of my problem with Who these days is that it tends to be a little too camp, not least in the episodes Russell T writes himself. But for all the bisexual snogging in Torchwood, I detect a lack of gay sensibility. It’s good to have gay and bisexual characters, but a more overtly gay sci-fi show could be a lot more interesting.

And finally, it should be Welsher. You have the advantage of using the Cardiff setting, unlike Who which has to pretend Cardiff is really London. You have the fabulous Eve Myles as the female lead. You have some great Welsh accents. There’s really nothing to be lost by Welshing it up and using the local flavour, so it looks a bit less like a show set in a generic provincial city.

 So how did I like the first episode of series two? Well, I rather enjoyed it, not least because Russell T acknowledged his Whedon influence by bringing in James Marsters (Spike, of Buffy fame) as a rogue Time Agent. The plot was confusing, but the action was relatively efficient. The supporting cast, even if they still aren’t as fleshed out as I would like, had stuff to do. But what was best was Barrowman and Marsters bitching away at each other like an old gay couple, which it was implied was what they were. More of that sort of thing please, and less of the Reservoir Dogs formation saunters down dark streets. We’ve already established it gets dark at night.

More here and here and also here.

What the Sasanaigh don’t get about Badiou

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This, one might think, is a good time for reading Capital. Perhaps, but it’s also a good time for brushing up on the old Badiou. Which tends to be something you put off normally. Sure, I read Žižek for entertainment – the man really missed his calling as a film critic – but you could never mistake Badiou for a little ray of sunshine.

But this leads me back to an old favourite, the question of why the Brits don’t get modern French thought. On reflection, the practitioners of Analytical Philosophy who dominate Britain’s philosophy departments are far from being the worst – in general, they just aren’t that interested in continental thought, which is why you can get a PhD in philosophy without having read a paragraph of Heidegger. No, what really annoys my brain is that element of the punditocracy that fancies itself intellectually sophisticated – it might be Johann at the classier end of the market, or it might be Nick and Francis at the Beavis and Butt-head end. Fuelled by a potent mix of philistinism and Francophobia, they operate on the basis that modern French thought is a load of pretentious gibberish, while occasionally plucking out quotes from the more facetious French philosophers, taking them literally, and holding them up as examples of how silly the French are. Exhibit A is Baudrillard on the Gulf War, when in fact the simulacrum was one of the few things Baudrillard got right. And yes, Prof Callinicos, I’m looking at you.

Now this may seem a bit cheeky, given that Irish culture is even more anti-intellectual than its British oppo (we only have one serious philosopher, and that’s Cardinal Des Connell), but bear with me. I like to read Badiou because, and this is a major test for me, he’s capable of being wrong in a really interesting way, so I find him stimulating even when, as I often do, I completely disagree with him. On the other hand, put yourself in the shoes of a British pundit who doesn’t know frig all about modern French thought but who has heard of this bloke Badiou. You go into the library, or perhaps Waterstone’s, and crack open a volume of the great man’s musings. The first thing you read is Badiou singing the praises of the Cultural Revolution in China. Your first reaction, understandably, will be “Who is this maniac and how does he get to be so influential?”

To take the political side first, it’s true that Badiou is an ex-Maoist and not very ex at that. Let’s leave aside for the moment that Mao Zedong Thought is itself very poorly understood these days, because that really isn’t the point. The point is that Badiou is a Nietzschean, and his take on Mao is a Nietzschean one. This then layers misunderstanding on misunderstanding.

In France, where philosophy is taken seriously enough to be taught in secondary schools, this isn’t a big problem, because most people with a basic philosophical training will have some grasp of Nietzschean categories. In Britain, on the other hand, it leads me as a Nietzsche aficionado to one of my long-running bugbears. That is that only about half a dozen universities in Britain teach Nietzsche, and historically they haven’t taught him very well. That can sit alongside other glaring gaps in the curriculum such as Schopenhauer not being taught anywhere, Bergson not having been taught anywhere for the last fifty years, and Kierkegaard being relegated to a weird half-life in theology departments.

So, is Badiou saying the Cultural Revolution was the greatest thing since sliced bread? Well, yes he is, but he’s saying something more interesting than that. What he’s saying is that the Cultural Revolution functioned, or had the potential to function, as the Nietzschean Umwertung aller Werte, the revaluation of all values. And this is where his critique of Mao comes in: that Mao in reining back the excesses of the Cultural Revolution after the ultraleft period of 1966-69, instead of allowing events to reach their logical conclusion, not only betrayed that process but also reduced his own status back to that of just a politician, dropping down from the übermenschlich to the allzumenschlich.

And this might just make you think that Badiou is even more of a maniac than he appeared at first sight. It’s certainly not a position I would care to argue in political terms. But philosophically it’s an interesting argument, much more so than columnists harrumphing about “Leninism” would have you believe. And, if we want to rise above the drab little world of Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism, why not?

Golden Oldies: Season of the Witch

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Come on, you remember Donovan. The Scottish troubadour who was just mad about saffron. Superman and Green Lantern didn’t have nothing on him. And in his more whimsical moments, he would put on a brocade coat and sing about Atlantis.

And in between times, he would put out gems like “Season of the Witch”. Which would rank alongside “96 Tears” and “The Passenger” as one of the all-time garage classics. There was a time when every bunch of kids with a guitar and a garage to practise in would have a go at knocking out “Season of the Witch”.

What recommends it, like “96 Tears”, is its beautiful simplicity. Two chords on the guitar, and that’s really it. Sure, there might be some swirly psychedelic organ stuff, but your two chords are the base, and all you have to remember is just to speed up a little on the chorus. And then the vocals, with Donovan half-speaking throughout. He doesn’t quite reach the levels of inexpressiveness of Iggy or Lou, never mind ?, but he does manage to make his vocalisation fit the general air of bleakness.

Groovy lyrics too, if I may say so, and this is a Donovan hallmark. There are times – you get this rather a lot with Sting – when you feel the lyricist is just randomly leafing through his rhyming dictionary. There’s a bit of that here, but Donovan had enough of a poetic sensibility to make everything feel like it hangs together, even if it doesn’t make much sense. That stuff about rabbits running in the ditch just kind of fits – I’m not sure how, but it does.

Yes, a real zinger there. If Donovan had done nothing else, he’d be worth remembering for this alone. And, in the way of these things, there are a couple of covers of “Season of the Witch” worth checking out, which manage to be radically different from the original and still work – something that usually proves the worth of a song. The first version I ever heard, oddly enough, was by Vanilla Fudge, and as you might expect from the Fudge (check out their covers of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Eleanor Rigby”), it’s about three times as long as the original and based around ludicrously overextended organ riffs.

Or, for a complete change of pace, the jazzy version by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger might appeal. But yeah, Donovan’s is hard to beat. Watch To Die For if you don’t believe me.

If the roots are strong, there will be growth

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Notwithstanding the results from New Hampshire, I guess the man of the moment is Irish-American candidate Barack O’Bama. I hate to be cynical – all right, I don’t – but I have to ask this. Is it just me, or does Barack bear a remarkable resemblance to Chauncey Gardiner in Being There? Except that he might actually be blander.

It seems extraordinary to me that you can get this far by just saying “change” a lot. On the other hand, lots of American punters seem to like that kind of thing. Remember that Arnold got to be Governor of California by waving a broom around and declaiming “I vill clean haus”.

It helps, of course, that O’Bama’s family background (barring the obligatory Irish link) isn’t African-American but African, and his links to the ghetto are tenuous to say the least. He doesn’t have that anger that suburbanites seem to find so offputting. In fact, he appears to be joining Will Smith and Tiger Woods in that select category of black men who don’t scare white Americans.

No, he doesn’t really inspire me, although he is performing a service by putting the skids under the Holy Clintons.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, it’s not surprising that religion is looming large. You have Mitt Romney, a competent administrator and a centrist Republican with a record of appealing to Democrats. Yet the man is hobbled by his faith, which involves believing that the angel Moroni helped Joseph Smith write the Book of Mormon. To much of the Republican base, that seems downright weird, and they prefer the surer ground of Mike Huckabee, who just believes that God created the world in seven days.

I can almost hear Dawkins tearing his hair out.

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