Surprising outbreak of paganism in Fermanagh


From today’s Telegraph:

A 12-foot tall Wicker Man will be set on fire tonight in a pagan winter ritual close to the Fermanagh border.

The folk ceremony at Aughakillymaude Mummers Centre near Derrylin will celebrate the loosening of winter’s grip and the impending return of spring as it marks February 1, known as a Quarter Day in the Celtic agricultural calendar.

At 10pm the straw mummers hats worn all winter by the troupe performing their traditional drama will be set on fire to mark the close of the mumming season and the Wicker Man will then be lit.

I knew Fermanagh was an odd place – it’s like a wee separate country by itself – but it’s still a bit of a surprise to find this kind of thing going on down there. Still, it sounds like a lot of fun, rain permitting. Bring along your banjos and your mint juleps.

Goyisher kop! Matgamna on Gaza


Over at Liam’s place there’s been a bit of a barney going on about the Alliance for Zionist Liberty and their interventions in the big demos against the slaughter in Gaza. What I’m not going to do is to deal specifically with the AWL’s behaviour, except to not that they do what they do specifically to get a hostile reaction. It’s the same imperative that has them going to left meetings and shouting that everybody else there is an anti-Semite. Basically, it’s a modus operandi that will be familiar from the RCP of blessed memory and the Spartacist League. (Although the Sparts are more literate Marxists, and Uncle Frank was always more interesting.) To be brutally honest, they’re lucky they don’t get beaten up on a regular basis.

What I want to do is take a brief look at the ideological line behind this, as expostulated at tedious length by AWL swami Sean Matgamna. Also spricht Sean:

The Guardian and other media have done most of the work in conjuring up the demonstrations; and the “left”, especially the SWP, have done much of the organising for the demonstrations.

But the politics of the demonstrations have been provided by the Islamic chauvinists. In terms of its politics – support Hamas, support Arab and Islamic war on Israel, conquer and destroy Israel – the big demonstration on 10 January in London was an Arab or Islamic chauvinist, or even a clerical-fascist, demonstration. Their slogans, their politics, their programme, echoed and insisted upon by the kitsch left, have provided the politics of the demonstrations, drowning out everything else.

The clerical fascists have politically hegemonised the demonstrations to an astonishing degree. These have not been peace demonstration, but pro-war, and war-mongering, demonstrations – for Hamas’s war, and for a general Arab war on Israel.

To anyone who was on the big demonstrations, this will make little sense, and will lead to the reader wondering whether Sean is living in a parallel universe. This may in fact be the case, but you have to bring into consideration the AWL’s peculiar use of language. What, for example, is this “kitsch left” that Sean keeps banging on about? Is it a vaguely homophobic jibe about real Trots not eating kitsch? Actually, no, it’s one of the AWL’s standard boo words, referring in this instance to those on the left who actually think anti-imperialism has some relevance to today’s politics.

The same goes for “clerical fascist”, which AWLers use as a catch-all for Muslims of whose politics they disapprove. And in fact, their idiosyncratic understanding of Muslims is a constant source of wonderment, because they will vehemently deny being at all Islamophobic, despite all evidence to the contrary. They will voice their support for “secular Muslims”, by which they seem to mean atheists with Muslim names. They will point to their record on the Balkans, which involved supporting Albanian narco-gangsters who make Hamas look like the Salvation Army, as an example of their kindly attitude towards the right Muslims. Curiously, they are less keen to draw attention to their support for the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s.

Back to Sean:

Placards called for “Freedom for Palestine”, which, for Arab and Islamic chauvinists and kitsch-left alike, means Arab or Muslim rule over all pre-1948 Palestine. It implies the elimination of the Jewish state, and since that could be done only by first conquering Israel, the killing of a large part of the population of Israel.

This is typical of the Matgamnite method. What Sean does is to draw out what he reckons to be the logical consequences of what he personally interprets the slogan to mean. That many, or most, or possibly the vast majority of those holding the placards don’t believe what Sean says they believe (as Sean sort of concedes later) is neither here nor there. Whether this mixture of cod psychology and the reductio ad absurdum is a sensible way to proceed, make your own mind up.

The dominant theme, “stop the slaughter in Gaza”, understandable in the circumstances, could not – in the complete absence of any demands that Hamas stop its war – but be for Hamas and Hamas’s rocket-war on Israel. Even the talk of “the massacre” subsumed Hamas into the general population, and was one variant of solidarising with Hamas, its rocket war, and its repressive clerical-fascist rule over the people of Gaza.

There you go. Unless specific and prominent slogans were raised against Hamas, and these were at least as prominent as those raised against the Israeli state, the demonstrators – even those on the platform demanding a ceasefire on both sides – are ipso facto supporting the actions of Hamas. So does mentioning the civilian casualties. Get out of that if you can. You might object that you don’t support lobbing rockets indiscriminately at Sderot, or mention that Hamas isn’t running a theocracy in Gaza – ask the PFLP, who have no doubt where they stand – but that isn’t the point. Nothing can withstand the bulldozer force of Sean’s rhetoric.

Even the most visible Jews on the Saturday 10th demonstration – Neturei Karta, a Jewish equivalent of Hamas, who for religious reasons want to put an end to Israel – fitted into the general clerical-fascist politics.

NK aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, particularly in the Jewish community, but their theologically grounded objections to Zionism – which were widespread in the Jewish community pre-1939 – are difficult to argue against within the terms of Jewish religious debate. Calling these guys fascists and a Jewish analogue to Hamas is not just insulting but wildly dishonest. I would also lay money that the large majority of Jews on the march were not members or sympathisers of NK, but that’s also irrelevant to Sean’s stream of consciousness.

The demonstrations have also been undisguisedly anti-semitic, more so than ever. Placards equating Zionism and Nazism and about Israel’s “Holocaust” all have implications way beyond Israeli politics and Israel itself. Calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, understandable enough on the face of it, were pretty much central. The main argument against such a boycott is that it is an indiscriminate weapon against all Israelis, and that it would quickly become a targeting of Jews everywhere, in Britain too. A small event on 10 January illustrated the point: a Starbucks café was attacked by some of the demonstrators seemingly because some people thought that it is owned by Jews.

This stuff is straight out of Harry’s Place, where David “Mr” T has been predicting a British Kristallnacht for years. As a counterbalance, one might mention that, whenever Jewish speakers have appeared on antiwar platforms, they have invariably received a warm reception, not least from the Muslim youth. It’s true that there is sometimes a lack of sensitivity shown to the concerns felt even by anti-Zionist Jews, but this doesn’t equate to an anti-Semitic festival of hate by any means. In any case, that’s an issue that should really be raised by Jews within the movement, and not by the most thoroughly goyishe organisation on the British left.

Which itself begs a question. Comrades occasionally ask me whether the AWL’s increasingly frenetic vicarious Israeli chauvinism is some sort of psychological compensation for their lack of Jewish members. I don’t buy that, on the grounds that they have at least one Irish member and that hasn’t prevented them devolving into support for loyalism. It’s probably got more to do with their increasing accommodation, at least in the realms of foreign policy, to whatever imperialism wants to do.

And this brings us back to the good old RCP, who were great at this kind of niche marketing. When a big issue came up, The Next Step would put forward a line diametrically opposed to what everyone else on the left was saying, and often identical to what the right was saying. And it worked, in that it gave Uncle Frank a distinctive product to retail to the kids. Well, the Soggy Oggies have been going that way for a long time, probably beginning with Sean’s brainstorm in 1982 that the Falkland Islanders were a distinct nation with a right to self-determination, following on from which was a practice during the war that managed the tricky feat of being even more patriotic than Militant. The change on the Middle East goes back to 1985, prior to which Sean was denouncing the SWP in particular for not being supportive enough of the PLO. Overnight he started calling them anti-Semites instead, which further marked him out from the identikit left and happily opened the door to a long-running collaboration with the über-Zionist Union of Jewish Students. And so it goes.

And what, after all these contortions, has our swami got at the end of the day? Well, not so much a Marxist cadre as the activist wing of Harry’s Place. To be honest, I think the AWL would have fitted in much better on the “End Hamas Terror” rallies organised by the Jewish Board of Deputies. But then again, they couldn’t have provoked a reaction, which was kind of the point.

Shit. Usually, agents provocateurs are paid by the state for their trouble. The Matgamnites don’t even have that excuse.

The last of the Austrians

For those of you who didn’t understand Gregor Gysi or are just looking for an alternative perspective, here are some pithy remarks from Ron Paul, who is that rarest of creatures, a politician who actually knows a great deal about economics. I have of course pretty major differences with Ron, but his critiques are usually great value. And, with there being more common ground than you would think between the Marxists and the Austrians… well, his talent for hitting the nail on the head comes in handy.

Celebrity Big Brother: Just one more dissection


I realise this is a few days behind the curve, but having covered Celebrity Big Brother already, a few thoughts on its ending would perhaps be appropriate. And actually, there isn’t a great deal to say – the new, Ofcom-approved, cleaned-up CBB was deadly dull most of the time, and the fireworks we watch it for just didn’t materialise.

I must say, too, that I was as surprised at Ulrika winning as anybody – I firmly expected Verne to romp home. The Daily Star is crying fix, but then they always do. Possibly, and this is being a little optimistic about human nature, it had something to do with her being the last woman standing in a house where the women hadn’t had a great time of it. And while the contrast with the boos outside is striking, this might perhaps be explained by what psephologists will soon be calling the Eoghan Quigg scenario. Which is to say, there were questions raised about how the tousle-haired scamp from Dungiven could top the X Factor poll in six out of the ten studio rounds and not win the final. Actually, that’s easy to explain, and has something to do with turnout. In an earlier round, with two million or so votes spread among seven or eight acts, a couple of hundred thousand block votes from Norn Iron could propel wee Eoghan to the top; with eight million votes between three acts in the final, that just wasn’t enough. So it’s possible that the sort of people who appear in the Big Mouth audience or go to eviction nights – the hardest of the hardcore Big Brother fans – may be out of synch with the casual viewers from time to time.

There was also the question of the misogynistic bully Coolio, who I genuinely feared might win after Verne had gone out. It was frankly a little mortifying that the Star, of all media outlets, would run big splash articles attacking Coolio’s behaviour, yet this drew only the mildest of reactions from the two right-on socialist blokes in the house. Of course, Coolio shooting his mouth off about bitches and hos is what Coolio does, and what the producers should surely have expected. Condemning Coolio for that sort of talk is like condemning a dog for licking its balls – it’s just the nature of the beast. What worried me a little more was the attitude of the young women on Big Mouth, which could be summed up as, “Coolio is hilarious! Get the crybaby Michelle out!” One would look in vain there for sisterly solidarity.

And oh yes, Verne. I was struck by this point made by Remote Controller in Private Eye:

The severely growth-restricted actor Verne Troyer is the most disabled performer to be admitted to the home for limelight-denied performers. This could be seen as a progressive move – and Troyer played along with this idea in the early stages – but there’s an uneasy sense that CBB, not for the first time, is trying to have it both ways. The camera angles often seem calculated to achieve a comic effect from his tininess, a sort of documentary version of his shtick in Austin Powers, and a nagging feeling that he’s present as a test of the tolerance and liberal credentials of the other housemates… and that, if they fail it, C4 will milk the publicity while smugly telling the regulator that it was investigating attitudes to disability.

Very much as they did during the Shilpa Shetty race row. That didn’t happen, unfortunately for those of us who would have liked to see someone engage Verne in an Austin Powers-style punch-up. What was more interesting is that Verne was nearly as un-PC as Coolio – he turned out to be a right cheeky wee bastard – but he got away with it much more easily. Was it people cutting him slack out of liberal guilt? Possibly, but there must also be the factor of him playing up with a twinkle in his eye, a certain light-heartedness and an awareness of his own comic potential. And, after all, his sheer size meant that he couldn’t be loud and overbearing like Coolio was.

What do we say about the Tangerine Man, who was the main reason why I was watching in the first place? He was fairly dull even by this series’ standards, and got progressively duller, to the point where he spent most of the time sitting cross-armed on the sofa, refusing to take part in activities he thought would make him look undignified. This suggests he wasn’t aware that lack of dignity was the whole point of the show, and anyway a concern for how one appears sits oddly with his insistence on going about in shorts and treating us to extended views of his hairy legs. All in all, Tommy didn’t do anything as cringeworthy as Gallows’ cat impersonations, but nor did he really do anything to win the public over. Optimally, as Phil says, a few kids might wonder who this character is and find out something about his politics; on the other hand, the not inconsiderable number of people in Scotland who already thought Tommy was a bit of a tube will only be confirmed in their view. With each of his media adventures – the football commentary, the stand-up comedy, and now this – he looks less like a working-class champion and more like a minor celebrity with a vague interest in leftwing politics.

All right, that’s enough about the actual show. But if I may finally return to the question of impressions – and the Big Mouth audience is perversely fascinating here – it’s interesting to see how some of the dynamics work. Firstly, the fact that, of the five men and six women to go in, the first four out were all women. We’ve come to expect that from the regular BB, where on at least one occasion they’ve had to draft extra women in halfway through because the house was just getting too male for comfort. Partly this has to do with the nomination procedure. It’s fairly standard at the beginning of the show to notice the blokes bonding with each other and being generally blokey, while the women immediately start to compete over pecking order. So it is that the men nominate the women, and the women also nominate the women. And then there’s the public vote, where the (mainly female) audience isn’t usually very forgiving of female housemates.

There’s also the structure of voting, where until the final you can’t cast a positive vote but only one to evict. This makes it a system geared towards haters, and often very subjective and emotional dislikes of particular individuals, which people then go on to rationalise in quite striking ways. I’ve mentioned before the cleft stick Lucy Pinder found herself in – on the Monday the Big Mouth audience were deriding her as a bimbo because she gets her tits out for a living, while by the Thursday they were deriding her as boring because she wasn’t getting her tits out in the house. You could be forgiven for thinking that you can’t win, and indeed you can’t.

If you’re loud and stroppy, there’s a fair possibility you’ll go out at the beginning. If you’re loud and stroppy and by some miracle survive the first couple of weeks (vide Jade) the voters might keep you in on the grounds that you’re entertaining. Being boring is often a good survival strategy – you can more or less sleep your way to about week seven. But that too can be held against you. And I’m always amazed at how, when some housemate (invariably a woman) is nice and pleasant and completely inoffensive, some of the audience (almost invariably women) will start in with, “She’s so false! She’s got a game plan! Get her out now!” On one level it’s an amusing catch-22, but on another level you see some of these eviction crowds, booing and shouting at someone whose only sin was to argue over who nicked the custard creams, and it’s so easy to picture them with pitchforks and flaming torches.

Ah, well. And the most depressing thing of all is that the auditions are currently under way for this summer’s tenth series. To be brutally honest, the Big Brother format is totally clapped out, and has been for at least three or four years, no matter how many twists they add, and no matter how energetically Davina gurns and shouts. (The woman makes David Tennant look like Victor Garber.) But it’s such an enormous cash cow for C4 and Endemol that it can’t simply be put out of its misery. So it will drag on, year after year, until it finally becomes a liability. Low ratings notwithstanding, I fear that is a long way off.

Wir ain fowk

One of the advantages of us having recently acquired a fairly big immigrant population is that it doesn’t fit neatly into the received bipolar division of society in the north. Some of you may remember, for instance, how a year or so ago Martina Anderson called for Catholic migrant workers – and the bulk of our migrant workers are from Poland, Portugal and Lithuania and thus at least nominally Catholic – to be counted as “other” rather than “Catholic” for the purposes of fair employment monitoring, lest immigration work to the disadvantage of local Catholics who were already playing catch-up in the labour market.

Thing is, I can sort of see what Martina was getting at, especially as this was first raised in the context of police reform. The theory was, as I understand it, that some sleekit employers might hire a bunch of Poles and count them towards their “Catholic” quota. But it isn’t as if our whole battery of employment monitoring statistics are too blunt to pick up what’s going on in the workforce. Anyway, to come out and say this, and to say it in the manner that Martina did, just made her look like the xenophobe she isn’t. Not least because the north has a high and rising level of racially aggravated crime, which places an onus on our leaders to be sensitive in what they say.

That was in the boom period. Nowadays, with unemployment rising rapidly, there’s obviously even more potential for resentment to express itself in ugly way. This would, you think, push our leaders to be even more sensitive in their utterances. Then again, look at who you’re talking about. Step forward, Sammy the Streaker:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has said firms should give jobs to locals ahead of foreign nationals in the current economic downturn.

He said it made sense to give preference to people “with roots here”.

“A lot of people moved in because of opportunities that there were,” said Mr Wilson, who is also a DUP MP.

Sammy’s position was also backed by OFMDFM junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP, Lagan Valley), whose ministerial brief includes equality issues. Now, we all know the DUP have never quite reconciled themselves to the Fair Employment Act. But you would expect government ministers to have some rudimentary knowledge of the law. As was pointed out on Slugger, it is extremely illegal to discriminate against a job applicant on grounds of their ethnic background. Moreover, European law states that any citizen of an EU country – such as Poland, Lithuania or Portugal – can live and work in any other EU country. It’s a cornerstone of the Single Market.

And would Sammy care to explain to the farming wing of the DUP exactly how our poultry industry is supposed to stay afloat if all the Portuguese suddenly go home?

Gregor Gysi on the economic crisis

Gysi’s speech in Thursday’s Bundestag debate. These are the times when you’re glad you have a performer like him around.

The televisual wasteland


Jonathan Ross is probably secure from the effects of the credit crunch, but out here in the sticks the crisis has been working its effect on local broadcasting, with the news that UTV is laying off a third of its television staff. That cuts were in the offing was trailed well in advance, and there have been noises to that effect at Stormont, but that’s still a big whack of your workforce.

This provides the jumping off point for the invaluable Newton Emerson in this week’s Irish News column. Making the point that UTV is probably secure in that it’s got an extremely tight monopoly, Newt then goes on to consider what Useless TV does actually provide in the way of programming:

In return for what former Scottish Television boss Roy Thomson famously called “a licence to print money”, each ITV company agrees to broadcast a quota of regional and public-service programming when bidding for a franchise. The quota is set and policed by a quango, Ofcom, which has a well-resourced regional office in Belfast.

Ofcom officially takes the view that Northern Ireland requires an above-average quota because it is a devolved region with the highest audience interest in local news and current affairs.

Which makes sense. But then, commercial logic kicks in:

For UTV the short-term financial view is to make as little local programming as possible. The station is at its most profitable when simply relaying the ITV network signal, interspersed with ads for carpet showrooms and Julian Simmons doing funny voices.

And, apparently, this is fine with the local Ofcom office. In fact, although UTV is just about the only regional ITV company to have retained its local identity, it’s hard to think of what programming it actually makes apart from the news. But hark:

In the meantime, UTV remains a highly profitable company. So why has it been allowed to slash local output? There will be fewer news bulletins, while current-affairs series Insight has been cancelled altogether. This follows an attempt to have the cheap and cheerful Late & Live counted towards the current affairs quota instead.

Ah, Late & Live. I remember Tina Arena when she was just reading the traffic and travel on the wireless, before UTV decided she was going to be their high-powered current affairs anchor. You know, I’m not a great fan of the Beeb’s Nolan Live, but the combination of Angry Steve shouting at the top of his voice, plus a boisterous audience treating the whole thing as a big massive joke, has a certain watchability. Do we really need a poor man’s Nolan Live in the first place, let alone one masquerading as current affairs?

Mind you, they’ve tried this trick before:

Ofcom Northern Ireland director Denis Wolinksi claims that UTV is free to over-supply its quota. UTV managing director Michael Wilson claims that the company is happy to do so. Experience strongly suggests otherwise. In 2005, for example, UTV bumped half a series of Insight after counting coverage of George Best’s funeral as current affairs.

Now isn’t that a cute manoeuvre? And the outlook is even worse in the non-news arena, as Newt points out, although I’m disappointed he doesn’t mention what may be my all-time favourite Useless TV programme, End to End. In this instance, UTV thought that, given the popularity of Gaelic games, it would be a dandy idea to have a GAA show, but failed to take into consideration that they didn’t have the rights to screen GAA. So we were left with Logie and Frank sitting in a studio discussing matches they couldn’t show us. You know that successful TV works on the premise of “show, don’t tell?” This was an almost postmodern attempt to prove the opposite.

The final sting in this sorry tale is the effect that falling standards at UTV have had at BBC Northern Ireland, where Spotlight in particular has been replaced with an extremely dim bulb. BBC Newsline now considers the whole concept of investigative reporting to be so exceptional that it puts the word ‘investigation’ on screen during any story involving more than one press release.

Well, quite, and this is difficult to understand in that Spotlight had begun to be quite a highlight of the week. Having once been an intensely boring programme, in the post-Troubles dispensation it managed to produce some high-quality material by actually doing journalistic spadework, researching and reporting real stories, and from time to time annoying the great and the good, which is always a sign you’re on the right track.

Newt concludes by considering the fate of Italian TV, where the 1976 deregulation almost immediately led to the networks being swamped by game shows and porn. Don’t get me wrong, game shows and porn have their place, but not dominating programming. The Italian experience suggests that total deregulation leads to the Berlusconi scenario, while what we have instead – useless regulation – doesn’t do much more than slow down the slide.

So what do you do? Well, firstly you need the regulators to get their fingers out. Broadcasters are past masters at coming up with some ingenious swizz like getting Terry Christian to talk to teenagers about drugs and then counting that towards the religious quota. Bestie’s funeral being counted as current affairs is only the tip of the iceberg. Any regulator with a spark of energy would be slapping it up any broadcaster who tried to weasel out of their statutory obligations.

The other thing you would need, of course, is for the broadcasters to show more concern with things like quality, innovation, and journalism that involves more than reading out press releases. That may be a much bigger ask. There is plenty of talent there, we know there is, but management lack of imagination, and the overwhelming importance of the bottom line, counts against us here. One senses that the new economic environment won’t help. Ah well, at least the arse has fallen out of property porn…

Anatomy of ineptitude


Yes, I know I should be moving on to more edifying fare – and I really need to get that review of Richard Seymour’s book off the back burner – but I am forced to pose the question: just why is the Gail Walker column so unmissably bad?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just a matter of me disagreeing with it – there are plenty of pundits I enjoy reading, even if I don’t agree with them. Nor is it just a matter of general badness. There is, I think, a serious mismatch between the writer and her chosen material.

I have a vague memory of Gail from, oh, it must have been the Good Friday Agreement period, when each Saturday’s Telegraph would have as a big splash the Gail Walker Interview, wherein our intrepid scribe would enjoy a chinwag with Daphne Trimble. Although, logically speaking, she couldn’t have been interviewing Daphne every week, but it always seemed to be somebody like Daphne. Then I lost touch with the Tele for some time, due mainly to having been in countries where you couldn’t get the Belfast press. Then, when I came back, our Gail was equipped with a fully-fledged column, a column that seems only to have grown in size since.

Earlier iterations of the column showed a focus on showbiz and lifestyle, with a particular liking for the old Glenda Slagg motif of picking apart female celebrities in a don’tchajustluvher/aren’tchajustsickofher manner. That, I feel, is where Gail’s heart really is, and if she has a forte, that’s it. But, in a manner common to lightweight columnists, she has a hankering to be taken seriously, and so has ventured into politics more and more often. And not just local politics, which is the usual fare of the Tele pundit. (Lindy McDowell’s recent fixation on Israel isn’t that much of a departure. You have to remember that, for unionists, the Israelis are ersatz Prods, the Palestinians are ersatz Catholics and Hamas are functionally the same as the Provos. Thus cheerleading Israel also functions as refighting the Troubles.) But our Gail sets her sights higher and likes to venture into high-end international politics, where she gives an unfortunate impression of being hopelessly out of her depth.

Gail’s other big shtick is that she’s the no-nonsense Tory taking on the liberal elite. This isn’t very difficult to do – the Daily Mail runs a small army of columnists doing this every week – but Gail suffers a lot from a local problem in that Norn Iron doesn’t have a liberal elite, it has a reactionary elite. She gets around this by declaring war on her bête noire, “the lefties”, but that only demonstrates that she has a serious case of Lefty-In-Your-Head Syndrome. She obviously has no experience of the left, or knowledge of its arguments, and indeed her categorisation of who constitutes “the left” is alarmingly broad. (Insofar as one can tell. Mindful perhaps of the libel laws, Gail almost never names her targets.) So we get the construction of straw-man arguments like “The lefties all love Mugabe” or “The lefties all want to kill the Jews” which Gail can then attribute to her unspecified “lefties” and allow herself to feel virtuous for opposing the position she’s just made up and smeared people with. It does begin to grate a little.

So, this week Gail does the inauguration of Barack O’Bama. It is, I should explain, traditional for Belfast columnists when covering American politics to write stuff like “You’re Very Welcome, Mr President”. Gail, having nailed her colours to the McCain-Palin mast, is a little more sour, but still keeps up the façade. And there are a few little gems I’d like to pick out.

The most excitement is found among the Left. (But isn’t that always the way, no matter what the issue is.) They’ve always been dreaming of a president who would, let’s see, be nice to the Soviet Union, take the side of the Arabs and Palestinians, get rid of right wing tyrants and turn a blind eye to the leftie tyrants, and most of all lift the embargo on Cuba and be nice to Fidel.

Does Gail not know that the Soviet Union ceased to exist almost twenty years ago, or is this an attempt at humour? And can she point me to anyone, outside of the Republican blogs, who claimed that O’Bama was going to do all this?

Amid all the furore of the US presidential race, there’s one thing that always consoles me. It’s the penchant of the Americans, whatever their political colour, for voting an American into office.

Not some British trade union doppelganger. Not some woolly liberal fence-sitter. But a full-blooded commander in chief of the US Armed Forces on land, sea and air. They’ve done that again this time, and he happens to be black.

Very soon the British liberals are going to wake up one morning and discover with shock that Obama was a Yank all along. And a GI to boot.

Well, I would be very surprised if the new president wasn’t an American citizen – it’s in the Constitution, after all. But the “commander in chief” bit is the important one. There is a point in that eventually O’Bama is going to invade some foreign country. Surrounded by people like Clinton, Holbrooke and Brzezinski, it may be sooner rather than later. Many, perhaps most, people would see that as a bad thing. But Gail is all “Ooh, I love those hunky GIs in their spiffy uniforms! Come on, Barack, invade a country just for me!” One senses that, as a girl, Gail must have seen Top Gun once too often.

For me, I’m just glad there is still an America. Still prepared to put its soldiers and its money in where nobody else wants to go. It’s already a great nation and it makes all its presidents great.

Even Dubya. Even, this early on, President Obama.

Hail to the chief.

See what I mean? Full marks to Gail, though, for sticking to her view that Bush-43 has been a great president, rather than the worst holder of that office since Woodrow Wilson. And get this:

The truth is, the reason why so much ‘hope’ is pinned on Obama in Britain is because America and its culture actually dominates Britain to a greater degree than any other European country.

Unable to elect a loony left government of their own, the loony lefties here keep hoping the US, in some brainstorm, will do it for them.

It’s also a kind of inverted racism on their part. Somehow Obama’s blackness, they think, must mean he is more like them in their whitey dreams of equality. (Colin Powell, of course, is also black but had he been elected president, one shudders to think how the left would have responded. He is a right wing republican, and that’s far too complicated.)

Firstly, as America is the sole remaining superpower, who holds the presidency has a certain influence over all of us. Secondly, Colin Powell is a not some rightwing nutjob, but a centrist, even liberal, Republican who could easily be a centrist Democrat, much like Eisenhower.

But hold on, are we being lectured on racial sensitivity by a woman who used the word “honky” in last week’s column and “whitey” in this one? Is there some weird psychological thing going on here, or is it just plain crassness? Or both?

Three messiahs for the price of one


As I write, I’m just listening to the inauguration ceremony in Washington, as we bid farewell to the long dark night of W, and as Irish-American senator, son of Jor-El and all-round saviour of humanity Barack O’Bama takes charge of the United States. Yes, I know, it’s easy to be cynical. We know, after all, that O’Bama is basically a down-the-line New Democrat, who can’t be expected to do anything even vaguely radical. We know that he is staffing his administration with retreads from the Clinton administration, starting with Hillary herself, and taking in the likes of Rahm Emmanuel, and even that evil bastard Holbrooke, who seems hell-bent on restarting the Bosnian war. We know, too, that in the last analysis he will do whatever Wall Street tells him to do.

And yet, there is something positive there in terms of the grassroots movement, the Black mobilisation in particular, and the rejection of the legacy of the Bush-43 administration, where we can see some potential. O’Bama is going to disappoint his followers big time – even if it wasn’t for the economic crisis and the foreign wars he’s been left with, the extraordinary burden of expectations on him would by itself account for that. The big question will be whether the wave he rode to power can, in the context of the crisis, give rise to something we can be really enthusiastic about. There’s some relevant discussion here.

While we’re on the subject of messiahs, there have been a lot of them doing the rounds as the handover of power has been going on. Here’s a question – when was the last time you saw Will Smith in an enjoyable film? It must be several years, at least, while he’s been busy playing roles that almost require him to wear a halo. He’s there in Washington too, although thankfully not rapping as he did for the Clintons. Not surprisingly, that long-running story about the Fresh Prince playing Barack in the movies just won’t go away. And why not? You want a charismatic Black lead with a messianic streak…

Finally, just to do the hat trick, did you catch any of the big Lincoln Memorial gig the other day? A bit of a mixed bag, I’ll admit, and not everybody there was to my taste, although an event featuring Shakira can’t be all bad. Springsteen was expected, and at least has good progressive credentials; Beyonce doesn’t exactly have the progressive credentials (unless “I’m a liberated woman cos my man gives me lots of bling” is where feminism is at presently) but is such a big act that she was probably inevitable. No, the thing that got up my goat was the choice of an Irish act, to reflect the ancestral roots of the president-elect (and not forgetting Derry man Joe Biden). And, with all the musical talent in Ireland and in the Irish diaspora, who turns up? Those sanctimonious tax-dodging phonies U2. Ah well, you couldn’t expect Bono to miss a chance to suck up to the new boss.

Mr Roarke has left the island


Well, with Patrick McGoohan having already been done, I thought it would be nice to say farewell to the great Ricardo Montalbán. Here’s a funny thing, though. As a young man, he was one of the top stars in the Mexican movie industry, in films I’ve never seen. Not being a great aficionado of 1940s Mexican cinema (who is?), I’ve never seen any of them. But what I find interesting is his career on arriving in Hollywood. He was one of those leading men – Don Ameche would be another – who appeared in dozens of films that I’ve seen but can’t honestly remember the name of. And yet, I remember him. He seemed always to be there. There was a certain type of old film that would get shown on a Saturday afternoon and, if it didn’t have Don Ameche, it would probably have Ricardo Montalbán. He was that kind of a jobbing leading man, and he stood out even when his material didn’t.

What he’ll probably be remembered for – and I think the obits bear this out – is a smallish number of projects he took on later in life. The unforgettable Fantasy Island obviously gets a lot of mentions here, with Ricardo’s performance as a mysterious, possibly godlike, but ultimately benevolent authority figure having elevated the show probably more than it deserved. On the other hand, he did a great villain. Trekkies will fondly recall him in The Wrath of Khan. And don’t say you don’t remember The Colbys. It may have been a big pile of crap – more ludicrously OTT than even its parent Dynasty – but, by God, it was entertaining crap. A lot of that was down to Ricardo as the villain of the piece. Had he had a moustache, he would have twirled it, and his melodramatic villainy made the big pile of crap worth sitting down for. (Well, that and me having a bit of a thing for Stephanie Beacham, but let’s not go there right now.)

And you know what’s tickled me most from the obits? Discovering that, when the young Ricardo came to Hollywood, the studio wanted him to change his name to Ricky Martin. To his credit, he refused to downplay his roots. But they must have kept that one warm for popular Puerto Rican singer Enrique Morales…

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