Man stops biting dog to watch liberal getting angry

And here’s something else – the Big Plan for getting policing and justice devolved to Stormont. The most interesting thing about the DUP-PSF deal (the outcome of which was predictable even if the timing was a bit up in the air) was not the deal itself so much as the spin around it.

Here’s the thing. The two biggest parties agreed that there would be a single justice minister, which is sensible after the debacle of appointing four victims’ commissioners in a futile effort to please every constituency. And they agreed that neither one of them would take on the job. So far so good.

So it was suggested, repeatedly, that the job would go to the Alliance Party. This greatly upset the SDLP, who pointed out that under the d’Hondt system they were next in line for a ministry. (Which is true, if you assume the justice minister to be of a piece with the Executive instead of a standalone post.) But everybody else seemed to think it a good idea.

Or so it seemed. The other day, the Radio Ulster midday news carried a report on the deal, and the probability of Alliance taking the job. Immediately afterwards, Alliance leader David Ford was on Talk Back. It is no exaggeration to say that Fordy was hopping mad. Not only did he not propose that his party would take the justice ministry, he demanded to know how this story had got about. Apparently none of the journalists who assumed Alliance would take justice had bothered to ask Alliance. This, Fordy gave out, was just a lot of spin from the Northern Ireland Office that the media had accepted uncritically.

You know, that has the ring of truth about it. But it’s quite funny to hear this from the party who were the willing instrument of the NIO for decades. By the way, the spin now is that the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, a man who everyone can do business with, is being lined up for the big job. But that’s just speculation. I expect the Green Party’s Brian Wilson will find his name being touted about next if he’s not careful.

In any case, Fordy underlined that Alliance would continue to carve out a role as Stormont’s opposition. This makes sense for them, and flags up a little conundrum for Alliance’s main rivals, the Official Unionists. On the one hand, Alliance’s position outside the big tent pissing in means that they can throw some populist shapes about Executive decisions. Granted that even the parties in the Executive pretend to be the opposition, to the point that you would think the government consisted solely of Peter Robinson, but it doesn’t carry much conviction if you’re on the inside. And granted too that Alliance aren’t very good at populism – just look at the motions on a typical conference clár for a flavour – but then neither are the Unionist Party these days.

On the other hand, there was the possibility being talked up of Alliance’s strongest electoral performer, the redoubtable Naomi Long, becoming the minister. I must confess, I quite like Naomi – despite her talking nineteen to the dozen, and having that great female talent of being able to go twenty minutes before she has to draw breath, she’s a very useful public representative. But Sir Reggie, as an East Belfast rep whose own seat isn’t entirely safe, must have been more than a little disquieted at the thought of Naomi gaining an even higher profile than she already enjoys.

Ah, Machiavellianism…

Jocko Homo sighted in North Antrim

You may have noticed that good old Prof Dawkins is popping up again on the TV, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. And a fine populariser of science he is too, although I feel he does tend to go for the straw men rather a lot when he strays into the realms of theology.

But then again, over here in Norn Iron, where I’m amazed we haven’t yet had a monkey trial, we do rather give him plenty of ammunition. The newly appointed chair of the Stormont education committee, Mervyn Storey (DUP, North Antrim) popped up in today’s News Letter, demanding the teaching of creationism in science classes:

Creationism is not for the RE class because I believe that it can stand scientific scrutiny and that is a debate which I am quite happy to encourage and be part of.

The issue for the current Education Minister [Caitriona Ruane] is that she tells us she’s all for equality – surely if that is the case, you can’t have one set of interpretations being taught at the expense of others.

So, if there are those from the scientific community [who believe in creationism] who can give a view about how the world came into existence then it can’t be set aside. You can’t have one very narrow theory.

This is not about removing anything from the classroom – although that would probably be the ideal for me – but this is about us having equality of access to other views as to how the world came into existence and that I think is a very, very important issue for many parents in Northern Ireland.

And I am delighted that Prof Dawkins bothered to come back and reply:

I have no objection to all kinds of daft ideas being taught in comparative religion classes but in science what we should teach is what there is evidence for and children should be encouraged to examine evidence…

If this politician [Mr Storey] wants to import creationism into science classes, I’m wondering which kind of creationism – Hindu creationism, Jewish creationism, Babylonian creationism, Aztec creationism?

My guess is that it is probably Genesis creationism and there’s absolutely no reason for it.

And the good professor goes on:

We live in a democracy and anyone can get elected…

I think it’s sad that people with ridiculous views do get elected because it suggests that the electorate is not sufficiently well-educated to see through them.

I would hope that a flat-earther would not be elected and would not be serving as an important official in educational circles – exactly the same would be true of at least a young earth creationist.

Not, perhaps, a line that would go down well with the God-fearing folk of North Antrim, but at least Norn Iron’s small community of scientific rationalists will have a nice warm feeling today.

Hat tip: Slugger.

Rud eile: the gay debate rumbles on, with a new row over Rev McIlveen and his congregation placing an anti-gay ad in the News Letter. Some things never change, do they?

A grand day out

Just a few brief reflections on last Saturday’s Gay Pride march in Belfast. It was a good deal bigger than in previous years – the 7000 figure quoted seemed a bit steep, but it was definitely in the thousands. All the recent media furore must have helped. Nice to see some marchers getting into the spirit of things by dressing up as Iris Robinson.

Apart from being rather large, the composition was a lot more working-class than you’d be used to. One expects the luvvies, but plenty of ordinary punters turning up to show their support, many of whom must not be gay themselves. This is all to the good. And lots of political banners – and, really, an awful lot of politicians, from every party bar the DUP. The nationalists might have been expected, but the intrepid Basil McCrea of the Official Unionists provoked a double-take. I also noticed a fair presence from Amnesty International, who weren’t much in evidence when they might have been useful here, but since the Troubles finished seem to have extended their mandate big time.

There was the usual picket of Free Presbyterians waving bibles and shouting about Sodom and Gomorrah, but they were relatively few in number and they don’t disrupt things the way they used to. Only two incidents worth mentioning arising from that. First was a lone fundamentalist rushing the parade, apparently with the intent of attacking a float featuring a papière-maché head of Iris Robinson. And one gay decided to moon the fundies. This last has led to the predictable outbreak of synthetic anger in the News Letter, which has been holding forth about Christians being subjected to abuse.

In general, though, quite a lively party atmosphere. The organisers seem to be going for the Mardi Gras style. And after years of tramping through damp streets in small numbers to the heckling of hellfire preachers, I suppose you can’t blame the gays for trying to have some fun for a change.

As Virgil falls on his sword, Pietersen is the man of the hour

Just what are the ECB thinking? No, scratch that, we’ve some idea what they’re thinking.

According to Aggers on last night’s news, the brass were determined to go back to a unified captaincy, and Pietersen is one of the few players guaranteed a slot in both sides. Well, if we’re using a process of elimination, why not make James Anderson the captain? And that really just flags up the weakness of the team.

A slightly more plausible idea is that you need an inspirational player who’ll lead from the front. Okay, we all know what a talented batsman KP is. But it isn’t as if England haven’t been down the road of the superhero captain before. Some of us recall Botham’s captaincy, a catalogue of disasters so profound they had to bring Brearley out of retirement. More recently, you had the Fred captaincy, where the team’s other talismanic player was supposed to be the magical ingredient. Granted that Fred does have a certain Boy’s Own quality, did that work out on the last Ashes tour? No it did not. Now, you might object that Fred was pissed most of the time, but even now that he’s off the sauce there’s still a question mark over his judgement.

My personal view of Pietersen is that his main task is to be more of a consistent and disciplined team player and less of a show pony. Put that together with his almost total lack of captaincy experience… Well, it’s just possible that this will prove to be a brilliant piece of lateral thinking. The evidence will be apparent soon enough.

For my part, I’d have been tempted to throw the captaincy to Strauss. Or there was the possibility of bringing Rob Key back as a straight replacement for Vaughan. The fat boy didn’t really convince much when he was playing for England, but since being dropped he’s been filling his boots in the county game, as well as proving a decent captain. If you reckon captaincy to be a specialist skill in itself, and in this day and age you can’t get away with a captain with Brearley’s average (at least not when carrying as much dead weight as this side), it’s not as if there’s a complete lack of options.

By the way, a remarkably conservative squad in the round. If Vaughan hadn’t dropped himself, one wonders whether any changes would have been made. You realise of course that this only puts off the day when the selectors have to take a machete to the entire team…

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