2014

New Year’s Day (a Wednesday)

5 January: in cricket the 2013-14 Ashes series concludes in Australia with Australia whitewashing England 5-0 to regain the Ashes after 7 years (one newspaper characterizing England’s Ashes tour as a “Pomnishambles”)

Peter Siddle and Michael Clarke with the Ashes urn

Peter Siddle and Michael Clarke with the Ashes urn

6 January: The US Senate confirms Janet Yellen as the new chair of the Federal Reserve; Yellen is the first woman to hold this post

Celebrities Visit "Late Show With David Letterman" - February 4, 20139 January: things start unravelling for New Jersey governor Chris Christie who up to this week has been the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination in 2016 (in November 2013 Christie was re-elected New Jersey governor by a 20-point margin — a Republican in a hitherto ‘blue’ state). He’s in trouble for over-eager political payback (which is, of course, his bruising style): in September 2013 his people snarled up the traffic on the George Washington Bridge (the main vein into New York City) for four days to bollox-up the city of Fort Lee because the mayor of Fort Lee and other elected representatives in the Fort Lee area displeased him (which is, of course, to punish the working people of New Jersey for political payback purposes). Christie, claiming he knew nothing at all about the ‘Bridgegate’ business — which given his hands-on MO is totally incredible (he makes much of his hands-on management style when it is to his advantage, witness Super-Storm Sandy clean-up, for example) —, threw his staff to the sharks to save himself (and may even have flat-out lied; we shall have to wait and see about this — about six different investigations underway). However, there is now a flood of damaging stories about New Jersey politics in the Christie era, especially about the way Hurricane Sandy Relief Funds were doled out in 2013. Not looking good for the fat man: he has enemies everywhere now, and his GOP colleagues almost cannot hide their glee. End of Chris, methinks.

11 January: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at the age of 85 after spending eight years in a coma following a stroke.

13 January: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid is named the winner of the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or, that is World Player of the Year.

Top dog Ronaldo (left) and (in red) his rival for World Player of the Year prize Lionel Messi

When you’re hot you’re hot: top dog Ronaldo (left) and, in ill-advised red, his rival for World Player of the Year prize Argentina and Barcalona’s Lionel Messi

15 January: Egyptians vote on a constitution that will ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Coptic Christians (new constitution — presented by the military junta who seized power in July 2013 — adopted by overwhelming number of those who voted, however Islamic Brotherhood and others boycott the process — 36% turnout in constitutional referendum). President Mohamed Morsi is still held in jail facing all manner of trumped-up charges — he was in league with the very devil himself according to military sources! You may be certain sure that the West will regret turning a blind eye to this; this is so short-sighted (Morsi was a moderate, for goodness sakes, comparatively speaking anyway!)

Morsi16 January: temperature reaches 43.9 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) in Melbourne; so hot Australian Open tennis matches have to be postponed (players collapsing on court in heat of the mid-day sun).

Heatwave in Australia

Heatwave in Australia

17 January: Twenty-one people are killed in a suicide bombing attack on a Kabul restaurant (on-going conflict situation).

17 January: following Edward Snowden revelations President Obama announces reform package to begin process of reining-in the National Security Agency.

19 January: violent clashes erupt in Ukraine as a reaction to new strict anti-protest laws (people already protesting rejection of closer ties with the European Union in November 2013)

20 January: A suicide bomber blows himself up near Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi killing at least 13 people (on-going conflict situation).

20 January: Two car bombs in a rebel-held post on the Syrian border with Turkey, killing at least 16 people amidst continuing fighting between Turkey-supported rebels and Saudi-supported rebels.

City of Homs in Syria. Atrocities in Syria on-going, too numerous to record.

City of Homs in Syria (before and after shots of the same street). Atrocities in Syria on-going, too numerous to record.

20 January: More than 20 million South Koreans’ credit cards details are hacked into.

20 January: China’s  2013 economic figures show the slowest rate of growth since 1999. However, the 7.8% growth figure is still phenomenal, and higher than predicted.

21 January: Pakistani aircraft bomb suspected Taliban hideouts killing 25 militants in North Waziristan; meanwhile in western Pakistan a bomb rips through a bus full of Shi’ite pilgrims killing at least 22 people (on-going conflict situations).

21 January: Polar Vortex bears down on north-eastern United States causing cancellation of thousands of flights and creating dangerously cold conditions (-30 C. in places!)

Polar Vortex in Chicago

Polar Vortex in Chicago

21 January: Government of Thailand declares 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces as anti-government protests continue (on-going situation).

24 January: Unrest in Ukraine spreads to several cities especially in the more western-oriented parts of the country.

ukraine25 January: 64 Islamist people are killed in anti-government protests in Egypt

25 January: 17 people are killed in car-bomb and mortar attacks on a Shi’ite Muslim village in Iraq (on-going situation — Iraq is an insane mess: 9,000 people died in violence in Iraq in 2013, and for January 2014 the body count is already nearly one thousand!! So many deaths there — ten, twenty, thirty every day — that it doesn’t even register any more).

25 January: China’s Li Na defeats Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulková to win the women’s final in the Australian Open tennis tournament (this is Li Na’s second major — she won the French Open in 2011)

Li Na

26 January: Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka defeats (an injured) Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to win the men’s final in the Australian Open tennis tournament

27 January: 61 people are feared to have been killed following gun attacks in Nigeria (Islamist insurgency and state reaction)

27 January: American Folk singer Pete Seeger dies at the age of 94.

Pete Seeger 1919-2014

Pete Seeger 1919-2014

27 January: The U.S. Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence reach a preliminary joint agreement, which is likely to resolve a lawsuit with the major American internet provider companies (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn), about the information the companies can release to customers regarding requests by the intelligence agencies for information (more fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations).

27 January: Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the coup d’état that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, to run for the presidency in the upcoming presidential election in Egypt

Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi

28 January: Bird flu in China: sales of live poultry are banned in eastern China after 19 people die from the strain this year. Hong Kong orders the destruction of 20,000 chickens after the H7N9 bird flu strain is found in chickens imported from mainland China.

28 January: Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov submits his resignation to President Viktor Yanukovich “for the sake of a peaceful settlement of the conflict.” Yanukovich also accepts the resignation of Azarov’s entire cabinet; the cabinet will, however, continue to work until a new government is formed. Parliament repeals anti-protest laws which had fuelled the protests. Protests continue nevertheless; protesters want President Yanukovich to stand down and new elections (protesters pro-European Union and President Yanukovich pro-Russian Federation).

FEBRUARY

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

2 February: Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, found dead in his apartment in New York City (drug overdose, apparently—heroin; he’d been clean and sober for 23 years!).

2 February: 48th NFL Super Bowl staged in New Jersey: Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks. Broncos get their asses handed to them (Seattle 43, Broncos 8)

3 February: In Dublin the trial of Sean FitzPatrick and the other Anglo-Irish Bank executives begins this week. All have been charged with counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank (that is, they, FitzPatrick the chairman of the bank, the Chief Financial Officer and so on, loaned people bank money for the purpose of buying up Anglo shares to fraudulently prop up the collapsing institution).

Cork Feb floods2-4 February: storms and flooding all over Ireland and UK. Flooding in Limerick and Cork cities (photo of a man swimming in flooded Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork viral on social media yesterday; also a photo of an otter swimming in another street, one of the riverside quays). Very high Spring tides plus weeks and weeks of rain. Very stormy too. And cold.

vlad putin 2

7 February: today the Winter Olympics open in Sochi in southern Russia (on the Black Sea coast, near Georgia, Armenia, Turkey et cet). First time the Olympics have been in Russia since the disastrous summer games of 1980 (which the USA and about 80 other countries boycotted in protest over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan). These games are said to be ‘Putin’s Games’, as the irreplaceable strong man of the Russian Federation (he who, bare-chested, goes hunting bears and other fearsome creatures with nothing but a high-powered rifle and a cameraman, and finds ancient treasure on the sea-bed when he goes diving, et cet) wants to show that his country has emerged fully from the chaos of the early post-Soviet era as a powerful, modernized, much-to-be-admired state. Mired in corruption stories, these games are said to have cost about $30 billion USD, some say $50 billion (and there are several reports saying that they are literally Putin’s Games, ie, he and his gangster cronies own or control everything, personally; he is, they say, one of the richest men in the world). And then there’s the whole business of Putin’s anti-gay crusade, and what’s going on with Ukraine (which is all about the fact that Russia does not want Ukraine to move closer to the EU and a good proportion of Ukrainians do want to do so, having had quite enough of what association with Mother Russia has to offer, thank you) and so on; not to mention Putin’s support for Assad in Syria. None of the major western leaders will be attending the opening ceremony (Obama, Merkel, Cameron et cet). Lots of stories about shit facilities, dirty water, painted lawns, and potted forests, et cet, not good. (Plus Pussy Riot girls are in the USA right now getting love-bombed by Madonna & Co.) Looks like the whole thing is going to be a Russian mess. They’ll be lucky if they get through it without an incident making it a total fucking disaster. (For a flavour of it all — a view from the west, admittedly — see, for example, David Remnick’s Letter from Sochi in this week’s New Yorker).

THE OPENING CEREMONY pageant at Sochi a complete rip-off of Danny Boyle’s ‘Isles of Wonder’ show for London 2012’s Summer Games it seems; shameless copying. I did not watch the live show (nor even a recording of it) but judging from the pictures — a couple dozen of which I’ve collected in this little YouTube photo-set (above) — how could one come to any other conclusion? The thing that made Boyle’s show so great — dimwits — was its originality, also the standards of execution, both of which Sochi scored less well on evidently — also Danny Boyle’s show to a large extent was about subverting traditional representations of what is conventionally glorified, whereas this Sochi show was straight down the middle PR for Mother Russia. (Doesn’t matter what we think anyway, it’s all for domestic consumption.)

Stuart Hall10 February: the death of British social theorist Stuart Hall announced today (b. 1932)

10 February: emerged over the weekend (Sunday Times story) that the office of the Garda Ombudsman in Dublin [the police regulator / complaints office] may have been bugged. Big fuss brewing about it, investigations launched, parliamentary statements et cet.

11 February: just announced that Shirley Temple (b. 1928) died last night, aged 85. A little bit shocked at hearing this because for some reason I assumed she’d died years ago! Everybody, of course, remembers her as a Hollywood child star from the 1930s, however, apparently she went on to have a diplomatic career, serving as U.S. ambassador to Ghana in the 1970s and to Czechoslovakia in the 1980s.

12 February: very bad weather continuing (a severe storm blowing outside right now — code red — 100 mile an hour winds); it’s been dreadful since New Year, six weeks of almost perpetual rain and storminess (and some severe storms — roads, and piers washed away, towns and cities flooded et cet). Worst January in terms of rainfall and flooding in the south of England since the 1700s (large parts of southwest England under water for a couple of weeks now). And still the rain keeps coming! A record 25 metre wave (82 feet) recorded near Kinsale today (recorded at the Kinsale Gas Platform).

Bank of Salmond13 February: British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne went to Edinburgh today and delivered a speech in which he said very clearly that if Scotland voted for independence later this year (referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on Thursday 18 September 2014) they will not be able to remain in a currency union with the rest of the UK afterwards, really putting it up to the Nationalists in Scotland. It was a coordinated move with the rest of the Westminster establishment because the leadership of the Labour Party and that of the Liberal Party came out with statements saying the same thing. Of course, Scotland can continue, if it wants to, to use the British pound informally, but, being informal, it will have no control over it — not be master in its own house as it were. Alternatively, it could apply to join the Euro, but there are difficulties with this too because there is a long run-in before before a country can do so — especially now after the recent banking crises and bailouts et cet — a run-in period designed to achieve convergence on certain economic criteria; also you need to have your own currency before to join the Euro — but, in any event, in joining the Euro they would in effect be leaving one union to join another which makes little sense. They could also set up their own currency but that would take years of planning, planning that hitherto the Scots have not done — having assumed that they will simply be able to keep the British pound — and it would also mean years of uncertainty until the new currency and the new state establish themselves, which of course markets will not like, consequently driving up the cost of borrowing et cet. All of the Nationalists’ planning documentation was based an assumption that has proven to be unwarranted. Oops.

George Osborne, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

George Osborne, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

18 February: Edward Snowden elected Rector of Glasgow University (an honorary position which is just as well given that he is stuck where he is). The rector is the students’ elected representative at the university court. Mr Snowden succeeds the Liberal Democrat’s former leader Charles Kennedy. Previous rectors at the university include Winnie Mandela and Mordechai Vanunu (the Israeli whistleblower). PS. another term for ‘whistleblower’ is ‘lamplighter’, a better one too.

18 February: authorities in Kiev are storming the protesters encampment — this is a shit or burst play — looks like there are going to be corpses.

Kiev Feb 201421 February: unbelievably the protesters in Kiev withstood the onslaught! Admittedly there are over a hundred dead (the authorities deployed snipers to shoot their own people!!!, to terrorize them) and thousands are seriously injured, but today a peace deal has been signed. President Viktor Yanukovych is done with; there will be another presidential election and opposition will get control of key ministries immediately. And the 2004 constitution will be restored. And it looks like former leader Yulia Tymoshenko will be released from prison (her imprisonment in the first place was very questionable, certainly it was unhelpful; she is or was on hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment and treatment therein). This is a total climbdown by Yanukovych, and, unless Russia intervene in a fairly robust fashion he is finished with. (Yesterday whole chunks of police and security forces, especially from the western part of the country, joined with the protesters.) It may be that Yanukovych is playing for time but it looks like he’s finished and the people have won (they have been unbelievably brave, for 3 months now, and in freezing conditions).

Kiev Feb 2

22 February: in Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country! People on the barricades refused to accept any deal with Yanukovych. They want his head! (Yanukovych has fled the presidential compound in the capital; and if he has any sense he’ll have fled the country too because if they catch him they will surely hang him — maybe with a show-trial first, just for sport. There are rumours that he is still in the Russian-speaking part of the east of the country, however it doesn’t sound like those people in the east are willing to start a civil war to save his skin. And I don’t think Russia will have any further need of him; they’ll give him sanctuary [in extortionate return for about 60 per cent of the Ukrainian loot he’s managed to squirrel away] but that will be his lot.) All is chaos right now. Joy and tears and car-horns and such like. Yulia Tymoshenko is out of prison (she was in a prison hospital as a result of her hunger strike) and like some kind of avenging angel is addressing delirious crowds in Independence Square now (as I write this). Looks like she and her people will inherit everything. (Point to watch: Commentariat in the west are saying that the opposition has been driven and led by some very right-wing groups — as in right-wing European fascists like those surging in neighbouring Hungary and Slovakia and elsewhere in that part of southeast Europe. Obviously, the opposition to Yanukovych has been a broad coalition of people, but, they say, we ought to watch out for Ukrainian nationalists going forward, the kind of people who will want to ‘cleanse’ Ukraine of all non-Ukrainians.) And, of course, we already know that Tymoshenko is no angel! She is known as the Eva Peron of Ukraine — and it is not only her critics who describe her thus, this is how she sees herself (she is a disciple of the totally corrupt Lazarenko — president of Ukraine in the 1990s — and is known to have squirrelled away a few hundred million in off-shore accounts already: she is also known as the “Gas Princess” — she is also, by the by, ethnically Russian, her reinvention of herself as a Ukrainian nationalist [including plaited blonde hair-do and refusing to speak Russian et cet] is fairly recent). Best thing Ukrainians could do is to side-step her as well (and move on) as she is also deeply rooted in the rotten system and culture they objected to in the first place. However, probably they will not; her people are already cleaning up the offices of the system that exploits them and robs them and oppresses them — the speaker of the parliament, a key Tymoshenko ally, has been selected to serve as interim-president until fresh elections are held (the situation is not dissimilar, it seems to me, to that of someone stuck on some sink estate in some hollowed-out shithole city who is totally wood-for-the-trees lost in a series of abusive relationships).

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson

26 February: Yesterday a Donegal guy called John Downey walked from a courtroom in London where he had been facing charges relating to the IRA’s infamous Hyde Park bombing back in 1982 (car bomb exploded as a troop of the Household Cavalry were going by: four soldiers dead, scores injured, several horses killed and maimed, a classic piece of terror/horror).

Aftermath of IRA Hyde Park bombing in 1982 and (inset) John Downey in London in 2014

Aftermath of IRA Hyde Park bombing in 1982 and (inset) John Downey in London in 2014

During the negotiations to do with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA, the 1998 peace deal which ended the so-called ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland), in return for the Republic of Ireland giving up it’s territorial claim on the territory of Northern Ireland and the IRA disbanding et cet, all IRA prisoners in prison for crimes committed before the GFA were released, and fellows on the run (OTRs) got letters from the authorities saying that they were no longer sought by Crown forces (which by implication, you would think, meant that they were free to travel in the UK and so forth). However, this guy John Downey was going through Heathrow airport recently and the Metropolitan Police nabbed him as a man still wanted for the Hyde Park bombing. When it came to court the guy’s lawyers argued that Downey had depended on the assurances he’d received in that letter, and the judge agreed (ie, that it was not unreasonable for Downey to depend on the assurances given) and threw the case out. Now there’s uproar because this is, in effect, to give IRA guys amnesty for everything (which, in truth, is what I believed had happened in the GFA: that is, these were political crimes, it was a war, the war is over now, let’s move on with our lives). But, of course, this is not how it was sold to loyalists (and, indeed, to the families of the Hyde Park victims, and to the families of victims of other atrocities). Now, Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, is calling for a judicial review of everything relating to this deal for the ‘On The Runs’ (which may have been done as a ‘side deal’, that is, it is not in the GFA texts) — it is one thing to have early release for people who have been tried and convicted for what are in essence war crimes, but it is another thing altogether to say we are no longer interested in pursuing any of these unresolved horrors. And if that is the position the authorities ought to man-up and come right out and say so. Robinson says he will resign as First Minister if he doesn’t get his Judicial Review. Tricky situation this. Needs to be handled right. The GFA has been missold to the Unionist community (and now some of these birds are coming home to roost): apparently they (the Unionists) were not aware of these OTR letters of assurance — or perhaps they were and Robinson is just grandstanding for his people, either way it is a dangerous situation. The guy has gone way out on a limb with his threats and demands here; there is a lot of unhappiness about the GFA in the Unionist community as it is. We certainly do not want to see all that Northern Ireland mess unravelling.

Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale26 February: In London, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale are jailed for life (meaning life — no release) for the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May of 2013. Uproar in the courtroom as the judge was handing down the sentences — the two guys had to be restrained, Adebolajo shouting “allahu akbar”, and Adebowale called out “that’s a lie” as the judge told them their extremist views were “a betrayal of Islam”. Eventually, the pair had to be removed from the courtroom.

Former UK government chief whip Andrew Mitchell

Former UK government chief whip Andrew Mitchell

26 February: Also in London, two Metropolitan Police officers have been dismissed over the “Plebgate” row that led to Tory MP Andrew Mitchell resigning as chief whip in September 2012. PCs Keith Wallis and James Glanville were sacked for gross misconduct. Wallis, 53, was jailed in January after admitting falsely claiming to have witnessed the original row between Mr Mitchell and the Downing Street police officer. Glanville was dismissed for passing information about the incident to the Sun newspaper. Mr Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, was forced to quit as the government’s chief whip as a result of the fallout of the Downing Street row. He admitted swearing during the original incident but has always denied the allegation by the officer, PC Toby Rowland, that he used the word “pleb” (ie, a low class person). The row started when a police officer at the gates leading into Downing Street stopped Mr Mitchell from cycling through, insisting that he dismount and walk through the pedestrian gateway. Mitchell, a cabinet minister [and posh public schoolboy and Oxbridge graduate], put PC Plod in his place in short order; nevertheless, the copper stood his ground and so things got rather heated. Afterwards the cops got together and cooked up a load of lies which cost Mitchell his government job. However, Mitchell also stood his ground, and (because of the cops’ default option of making shit up if you need to) has emerged the ultimate victor.

Alan Shatter26 February: Alan Shatter (pictured) and Enda Kenny still batting in defence of the Irish police force and for Martin Callinan, the Garda Commissioner, in particular — there’s something seriously rotten at the heart of all this (it seems pretty clear to everyone except Kenny, Shatter, and Callinan; see also 10 February, above); they’ve been at it all day in parliament. It’s turning into a sharknado for Shatter’s political carcass. The story has gotten very convoluted, too convoluted for me to follow, much less explain. Basically, there are a number of wistleblowers within the Irish police service unhappy about a number of abuses. The top brass in the police are trying to silence them and whitewash over everything and the Justice minister (Shatter) and prime minister (Kenny) are enthusiastic enablers (the Irish police, reflecting the community it serves, are only interested in the law when it suits them — and have been, and no doubt still are, involved in some very rum activities). Fintan O’Toole had a good column in yesterday’s Irish Times on the subject (as FOT says, the issue goes to the heart of the whole [unhealthy] culture of the Irish state):

quotation-marksIt would, at this point, be a relief if Alan Shatter were corrupt or stupid or a crawler. We could then say that his behaviour in relation to the accountability of An Garda Síochána was a personal aberration.

But no one, even among his many enemies, believes that Shatter’s personal integrity is in question. Far from being stupid, he is arguably the member of the Cabinet most qualified for the job he is doing. And far from being eager to please either the general public or the powerful people he works with, one of Shatter’s most interesting characteristics as a politician is his indifference to popularity.

These are all admirable qualities in themselves, but in the context of his disgraceful response to legitimate concerns about the culture of a crucial institution, they make things far, far worse. They leave us without simple, personal explanations and force us to recognise a deeper malaise in the functioning of the State. That malaise is the insidious insistence that everything is fine because those in charge say so.

There is much that we do not know about the intertwined claims of bugging, abuse of the penalty points system, mishandling of serious crimes and ill-treatment of whistleblowers that have created a crisis of confidence in the management and oversight of the Garda. What we do know are two things. One is that the allegations are serious, substantial and made in apparent good faith. The other is that the response of the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and the Government has been consistent and coherent, which is to say it has been consistently and coherently hostile, defensive and belittling.

One thing that needs to be made clear here is that there’s nothing really shameful in a democracy about the existence of some malpractice in the police force. There will always be malpractice in police forces. It is in their nature. They have extraordinary powers and, because they operate under pressure and danger, they have very strong internal codes of loyalty and omerta. This is a perilous combination. It will generate problems in the best-run police forces in the best-governed countries.

The question is not whether some people in the police behave badly. It is whether the force is capable of discovering, stopping and being accountable for that behaviour – and whether, if the force itself fails, other democratic institutions can step in. This might seem to be an abstract distinction but it is actually the fundamental difference between a democracy and an autocracy. Healthy democracies assume that the power of the State will inevitably be abused and conclude that openness, vigilance and accountability are needed to check those abuses. Autocracies, on the other hand, always insist that everything the State is doing is good and that only the malign or deluded could possibly think otherwise.

Over the last month, we’ve seen a glimpse of what it’s like to live in an autocracy. In a functioning democracy, the raising of allegations of misconduct within the Garda would be given a kind of rueful welcome. Rueful because, of course, the reputation of their police force matters greatly to most Irish people. But welcome nonetheless because we’ve all learned the hard way that the best approach to maintaining the reputation of an institution is to be open about its failings. In an autocracy, on the other hand, any suggestion that a key institution has serious problems cannot be entertained.

This is what makes the official response to the current set of allegations so deeply worrying. It has betrayed an autocratic instinct. Running through all the individual responses has been the classic autocratic delusion: we know for a fact that everything is fine and it follows that anyone suggesting otherwise is stupid, ill-intentioned or both. Their motives must be impugned: Sgt McCabe is insubordinate; GSOC is paranoid and foolish; the Committee on Public Accounts is impertinent. There is even a hint of the autocratic desire to airbrush the historic record: Oliver Connolly, the Garda confidential recipient, had to be fired because he would not “repudiate” statements he had made, apparently in good faith, to Sgt McCabe. Perhaps Comrade Connolly might be invited to a self-criticism session?

Quotation-MarkThis is scary stuff. If Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan don’t go, the autocratic mindset will be more deeply entrenched. But even if they do go, we still have to ask how it has come to this, and why the natural impulse at the top is to treat legitimate concerns with such enraged hostility. I suspect the root of the problem lies in the way government and officialdom have become used, in the broader arena, to insisting that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Compulsory optimism cannot abide contradiction.

Angela Merkel  and Cameron27 February: German Chancellor Angela Merkel in London today where they made a very big fuss about her (not only is she politically and economically successful in her home patch she is hugely respected internationally, including in Britain, and by now she is ‘the grand old dame of Europe’ so to speak, with Hollande, Cameron & Co all Johnny-come-latelys — the new prime minister in Italy, for example, is a 39 years old kid, a child in terms of all politics, not just EU politics). During her (one-day) visit she had tea with the queen in Buckingham Palace (Merkel remember is only the PM in Germany, not the head of state), meetings with David Cameron in Downing Street (meeting in his private apartment at the top of the building) along with a joint press conference with DC, and she addressed the Lords and Commons (again, unusual for one who is not a head of state). Should he be re-elected in 2015, Cameron wants her to allow him enough room to say that he has negotiated a “new deal” for Britain in the EU, enough to satisfy enough of the (many) British Euro-skeptics, to allow him to win the referendum on Britain in Europe in 2017 which he has been forced to promise. She, meanwhile, cannot allow the EU architecture of which she is now one of the principal stewards to unravel and consequently have 12 or 15 of the 30 countries in the EU attempting to negotiate some level of special status. If Cameron does not get something with some good meat on it the UK will (I believe) walk, which would just be turmoil (think of the situation in Scotland, which is very pro-Europe, unlike England, and which I think will vote to stay in the UK later this year, but will feel very differently two years later if the UK votes to leave the European Union, and think also of the situation in relation to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and just the general chaos and uncertainty all across Europe). There is an opportunity here to do a little remodelling of the EU architecture [and at the same time push through some other necessary reforms and developments] and it should, I think, be grasped at. Anyway, nothing will be activated until Cameron gets himself re-elected, if he can do so, which right now is something in the balance — although I would say his chances are pretty good; things are turning in the right way for him and his administration just in time for the electoral cycle, and Labour has failed to impress. However, if the Liberals are not wiped out there is a good chance of a Lib-Lab coalition.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing a joint session of the Lords and Commons at the Palace of Westminster

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing a joint session of the Lords and Commons at the Palace of Westminster

27 February: Peter Robinson has been granted a good part of what he has been demanding (with threats) in the wake of the collapse of the court proceedings against John Downey (see 26 February, above), and consequently he has withdrawn his threat to resign. A review of all of these so-called ‘OTR letters’ has been granted like he asked for (a ‘judge-led review’, not a ‘judicial review’ in the sense he meant — of the decision to issue such letters and the context in which that decision was made, along with its legal standing, et cet), an abject apology from Prime Minister David Cameron (in which the PM acknowledges that John Downey should never have received the letter he received, it was ‘a dreadful mistake’), and an assurance that issue and receipt of these letters does not constitute immunity from prosecution. However, this is all just goddamn semantics and spin — Robinson has got nothing (and Cameron has nothing to give him because he [Cameron] has no intention of revisiting the Good Friday Agreement or any part thereof — Tony Blair has sucked out all the good [in terms of political benefit] to be had out of that scarred fruit and there is nothing there for Cameron but peelings left behind by the court of Tony Blair and a load of bad press and maybe much worse). And it seems that Robinson has been grandstanding — there are local and European elections in Northern Ireland in May and he needs to whip up his people for these, be sure they seem him as their voice; and also ensure that he is not out-flanked by ultra-Unionists — that is, he cannot allow this Downey thing to pass without making a big fuss about it because otherwise he would be handing his ultra opponents a rod to beat him with in May). However, it appears like he might have miscalculated viz the ultra-Unionists because now that Robinson has said that he is satisfied with the response of David Cameron and the British government they (the ultra-Loyalists) are saying that he’s got nothing and that he (Robinson) has just been flip-flopped like a pancake. Meanwhile, Republican Nationalists in Donegal (where Downey is from) are planning a celebratory Welcome Home Party for their warring hero — that is, what’s bad for you is great for me (extremists on every side are itching to get at each other again — ultra-Unionist journalists and bloggers and others, for example, will be very keen to get pictures and sound-bites from this party event in Donegal which will offend and enrage people, and unfortunately the yahoo people of Donegal will be only too happy to oblige). Can the centre hold?

Vlad Putin 127 February: Putin it up to the Ukrainians (and the West more generally) — Russian president Valdimir Putin has ordered Russian military forces in the area of Ukraine to be on standby and has fighter aircraft doing fly-pasts over the east of the country. Meanwhile former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has turned up in Russia (of course), claiming to be the real president — the genuine authority — disputing and rejecting the legitimacy of the rabble administration being put together in Kiev (according to reports Yanukovych has absolutely emptied the sovereign accounts of the Ukrainian state, left them with absolutely nothing), while Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is making very bellicose noises about the need to protect Russian people and Russian interests in the area. Aside from the Russians in the Ukraine proper (about 20% of the people, concentrated mostly in the eastern areas of the state) there is Crimea, which hosts an absolutely vital Russian naval base — home to their Black Sea fleet. Crimea is a self-governing entity within Ukraine, however, it is mostly populated by Russians, people one way or another connected to the giant Russian naval base (people identifying as Russian make up about 50% of the people of Crimea to which for political purposes can be added a certain proportion of the dependants of such folk). Russia will certainly do the necessary to secure that base (there will be no compromise about that). Egged on by the bellicosity coming out of Moscow armed bands of Russian men have now seized various strategic assets in the Crimean peninsula, the parliament buildings, communications centres, airports and so forth. It will take but a spark to set things off. Russia must secure that base and the support infrastructure surrounding it, no question (this is the realpolitik of the situation), but even aside from that necessity it is spoiling for trouble generally (cf. their support for Assad in Syria and their vetoing of any UN reprimand of the Assad regime, the Edward Snowden business, that thing Obama said about Putin being the kid that slouches at the back of the classroom along with hundreds of other slights, real and imagined). Putin’s strongman, defender of Mother Russia self-promotion means that he cannot be weak or quizzling in this situation — it is one thing to suffer set-backs in Serbia, Syria, and Iraq and so forth, but Ukraine and that Black Sea naval base are quite other matters altogether (NATO and the EU have already pushed right up against Russia in Poland and the Baltic states, but he’ll be dammed if he and his people will pushed out of Ukraine and the Crimea). We could well see a portion of the east of the Ukraine lopped off to make a corridor to the Crimean peninsula for Russia (which would have the support of the people living in that area, who are ethnically Russian for the most part and, right now, with Ukraine without so much as a pot to piss in, there is not a lot they could do about it; and the West would do nothing because there is no mood [and no money] in the West for any more actions or adventures [grand or otherwise], and certainly not in the cause of some patch of land down in those parts). But even more than all that, Putin is spoiling for trouble, he feels disrespected (his stupid Winter Games which have just ended were ignored by all the Western leaders, except for the purposes of sniggering at Russian pretensions, and [worse] while Putin was watching ice-hockey in Sochi his puppet regime in Ukraine came apart at the seams and has landed into the laps of the the EU and the IMF and the US, endangering the strategically vital Crimea). He has got to do something, or risk looking like a fool or a fraud, and maybe both — a tin man.

Kiev 2928 February: Russia has acted — indeed, even as I wrote yesterday the action was already under way. And it’s quite a clever too. Russia has effectively seized the Crimean peninsula, but it has done so silently, as it were; a Silent Revolution. Those armed bands of Russian men that seized various strategic assets in the Crimean peninsula yesterday, the parliament buildings, communications centres, airports and so forth are, of course, Russian servicemen (not armed citizens acting on their own initiative). It is all centrally controlled, part of what is clearly a fairly well-worked-out plan. None of these units are displaying any insignia but their weapons (they are very fully equipped) and their outfits are standard Russian service issues. And their actions throughout the peninsula are coordinated, deliberate, and systematic in ways that could never be if they were uncoordinated local militias (which is what they are regarded as in Moscow spin). And then the skies are full of helicopter fleets ferrying men and materials hither and yon, and naval gunboats have sealed off the harbour at Balaklava (the seaway leading to Russia’s Black Sea naval base). The whole world knows that this is a Russian seizure of the peninsula but do not yet want to call it that because of the consequences of so doing (it would be a violation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, requiring sanctions and condemnation and, indeed, an authoritative response from the new government in Kiev — Kiev itself does not want to recognise this as a Russian seizure operation because of these implications). So, for the moment, it looks like everyone is going to live with a fiction, if not a lie. To some extent the whole thing looks like the preliminaries to the Russian assault on Georgia back in 2008. Then, however, the Georgian military did the Russians the favour of attempting to move into the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia sparking the furious Russian reaction. Kiev, for the moment, is playing it cool (it doesn’t have the resources to do otherwise anyway, nor is it likely to have in the near future). Reporters who have managed to get responses from individuals in these unmarked armed units at all strategic points on the Crimean peninsula (now including bridges and motorway access points) have been served up the fiction that they are concerned citizens of Crimea acting to protect the peninsula from the rabble and radicals and fascists that have taken power in Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine (that is, so far everyone is on-script). With respect to all the helicopter activity, Moscow says that everything its forces are doing in the region is allowed for under in terms of existing treaties with Ukraine. So, in sum, if we cannot say that Russia has seized the Crimean peninsula, most certainly we can say that the writ of the authorities in Kiev no longer runs in Crimea. The trouble will come if and when Kiev attempts to reassert its sovereignty in the area. What Russia has done (rather cleverly — so long as nothing goes awry to spark off or escalate things) is to ensure that nothing will be done in the Crimean peninsula (or indeed anywhere in east Ukraine) without Moscow’s approval and consent. I would not have credited them with such subtly (clearly, my assumptions are very out-dated — I expected them to roll in with tank divisions like the Soviet forces did in Hungary and Czechoslovakia 50 years ago! — it seems the way Russia operates nowadays [close to home anyway] is to work its ‘plantation people’ trotting out the same rationales the UK uses in relation to Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, the Falklands, et cet).

MARCH

Ukraine1 March: things heating up in the near east — the Russian parliament has voted to ask President Putin to do everything necessary to secure and protect Russian people and Russian interests in Ukraine and Crimea, and has voted through authorization for him to do so (including authorizing the use of Russian military forces in Ukraine — not, please note, ‘eastern Ukraine’, but anywhere in Ukraine; which is to say that Russia is now poised to occupy [or take action anywhere in] the whole of Ukraine should it need to do so). Meanwhile the U.S. is now calling it like it is — an occupation of Crimea by Russian forces — and calling for Russia to cease and desist and disengage. Which of course Russia has no intention of doing. Obama, we are told, had a long and forthright telephone exchange with Putin about the developing crisis; there is no going back from the language being used by the White House or by Samantha Power at the UN Security Council: this is a violation of Ukrainian sovereign territory by Russian forces (not, note, ‘Russian-backed forces’, they are saying that these are actual Russian troop deployments within the territory of Ukraine, which indeed they clearly are). It’s not only the words and phrases the Americans are using, it’s the tone which is strikingly no-nonsense. Ambassadors are already being recalled and expelled and whatnot (Canada has expelled the Kremlin’s representative anyway, and during the debate in the Russian parliament about the situation in Ukraine there were calls for the expulsion of the U.S. delegation out of Moscow — by the by, there was very little ‘debate’ in the Russian parliament, Putin’s hardline is backed to the hilt in both houses, apparently; Russians are in a very flag-hugging mindset). This is only going to get worse. Hard to see how there can be any straight forward compromise: Russia must have Crimea. End of story. And Ukraine must have $25 billion USD in bailout funds, and probably as much again over the next three years — and afterwards a lot of supervision about how they administer those monies, otherwise all will be wasted and/or stolen. And Russia will also want to have a good and proper buffer zone between itself and any US-EU-IMF-backed puppet regime in Kiev. (Point of interest: the name ‘Ukraine’ is derived from the term for ‘borderlands’.)

John Gilligan2 March: Irish crime boss John Gilligan, 62, who was released after 17 years in prison (for drug-trafficking-related offences) last October, was the victim of an assassination attempt in Dublin today. He was shot six times and still he lives (he is expected to pull through; hospital authorities say his condition is ‘stable’). Gilligan was attending a family party at his brother’s house when the gunmen (two of them) struck. This is the second attempt on his life since his release (the other was in December of last year, however, on that occasion apparently the assassins went to the wrong pub).

Best picture2 March: Twelve Years a Slave wins Oscar for best picture; Kate Blanchet wins best actress for her performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, and Matthew McConaughey wins best actor gong for Dallas Buyers Club. British film Gravity wins a sweep of technical awards and best director for Alfonso Cuarón.

10 March: just before the weekend (ie, about 3 days ago now) a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board (passengers and crew) flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing simply disappeared. Nobody knows what happened, it went off radar two hours into its scheduled journey and not a trace of it has been identified as yet (despite a massive international effort to sieve the seaways for hundreds of miles in every direction from it’s last known radar point). All sorts of theories doing the rounds but nobody knows anything (at least as far as the rest of us are concerned anyway). A number of the passengers on board were using stolen passports but it turns out that these were not terrorists but young guys from Iran seeking to get themselves into Europe where they were hoping to get asylum (one had an Austrian passport and the other Italian, both passports stolen in Thailand); aeroplane must have been going on to Europe afterwards, or maybe they were planning to get connection flights.

10 March: looks more and more like Russia is going to get away with its de facto annexation of Crimea (as they see it it was their’s to begin with anyway—they granted it to Ukraine in the 1950s to thank them for their war-effort in WWII or some shit like that). Steadily their unmarked units have seized every facility on the peninsula (I think there are two Ukrainian army bases still holding out) and now, in about a week’s time, they are going to have a referendum about the future. They have the majority to achieve the result they want (and anyway they would pack the ballot boxes if they had to—the “local militia units” will not allow any international observers into the area). By the by, the question in the referendum means more Russian control no matter which way people vote—the way it’s worded means joining the Russian Federation and becoming fully part of Russia (with Russian passports etc), or you can have greater autonomy for Crimea, ie break away from Ukraine altogether and become an independent state, which of course would make it a Russian vassal state (the pre-annexation status quo is not an option). From a Russian POV the whole thing has been very well run, both on the ground in Crimea (where their people have been very disciplined) and in terms of PR at home and abroad. The west has got nothing to offer, nothing but bluster. The U.S. needs Russia in relation to Iran and Syria, and Germany and other economies in central Europe need Russia in terms of energy supplies (and Britain is concerned not to spook the hundreds of Russian billionaires who have hundreds of billions in British banks and British property and British football clubs and British media companies et cet &c). Game, set and match to Vlad the Impaler. Crimea is Russian (Crimea has always been Russian). Viz the PR game: what the whole world hears is the British foreign secretary and the U.S. secretary of state saying “It is completely unacceptable to enter and occupy a sovereign country on trumped-up charges and then stage gerrymandered plebiscites to justify your actions ex post facto” and, with Iraq in mind, they’re thinking “Asshole meet irony”, which is just another cost of that unbelievably costly (and unnecessary) Arabian adventure.

Tony Benn 1925-2014

Tony Benn 1925-2014

14 March: death of old English leftie Tony Benn has been announced (aged 88), UK cabinet minister in the 1970s, in the Wilson and Callaghan governments, and then leader and spokesman of the hard left in the party in the late 1970s and early 80s. Having published several volumes of his diaries (8 of them, door-stoppers all) he will also be remembered as a significant political diarist and chronicler of the age. Great polemicist and public platform speaker too (doing several events a week for years and years all across the country, everywhere from the northeast of Scotland to the southwest of England and Wales — even when people didn’t agree with his politics they enjoyed his performances).

15 March: in a very close and hard-fought encounter in Paris, Ireland beat France (22-20) to win the Six Nations Rugby Championship, which is the third time in about 30 years Ireland have won the title.

Ireland's Dave Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll with  the Six Nations trophy

Ireland’s Dave Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll with the Six Nations trophy in Paris

Syria 1

15 March: this week marks the beginning of the fourth year of the anti-Assad civil war in Syria; stories from there (and from all the neighbouring countries affected by it — refugees and gangsterism and so forth) hardly make the newspapers or news broadcasts any more but it rumbles on (over 100,000 dead — some estimates as high as 140,000 — and who knows how many injured and fucked-up in unspeakable ways).

Google doodleVladimir Putin17 March: the Russians in Crimea voted overwhelmingly (97%) to split from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. No surprise there, nor is there any surprise about the reaction in the West, which rejects the referendum as a mockery of democracy. They do not have too much credibility in doing so, it seems to me, because this is exactly they way in which the UK, for example, legitimises its hold on Gibraltar, or the Falkland Islands, or Northern Ireland for that matter. Admittedly, for a proper referendum one would like to see a much longer period of open discussion and free debate, with an independent referendum commission, and international election observers and so forth. However, I do not doubt at all that a good clear and true majority of the people on the Crimean peninsula want to rejoin to Russia. Some groups boycotted the vote in Crimea but I heard one report that said turnout was a high as 80%. Crimea has already formally applied to become part of Mother Russia, an application which of course will sail through. Putin really strutting around the place like a cock in a hen-house now.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister

23 March: Turkey shot down a Syrian war-jet which it says had violated its airspace. Those two are just itching to have a go at one another (Turkey—at least in its Ottoman form—is, of course, up until the 1920s, the former colonial master) and with Syria on the backfoot (and very likely to breakup altogether and be a chaotic mess like Lebanon to the south of it) and with Erdogan in trouble domestically in Turkey (his government is mired in corruption allegations) a little foreign affair might be just the ticket (inspired by Vladimir’s Crimean adventure, I suppose).

24 March: In Egypt 529 supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi have been sentenced to death!! (And we in the West have the nerve to criticise Putin in Crimea!! Which was very civilized by comparison — the U.S. still refuses to acknowledge what happened in Egypt last July was a military coup!!)

24 March: following two weeks of fruitless searching involving about 20 nations, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board (passengers and crew) flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has been declared lost (in, they think, the Indian Ocean having flown disastrously off course). See also 10 March, above.

callinanjpeg-200741725 March: Irish police commissioner Martin Callinan steps down “for the good of the force” and in the interest of his family and all that usual sort of resignation guff (technically he retired); but basically he has had to take a fall in an attempt to staunch a wound in the body politic that has been openly emitting unwholesome ooze for weeks and weeks now (see 10 and 26 February, above), and probably will not cease to do until Alan Shatter the Minister for Justice also goes. Things getting murkier and murkier — turns out that there is in place and has been for more than 20 years a recording system that records all telephone traffic in and out of police stations. This is straight-forwardly illegal under data protection legislation but it becomes really serious viz client-attorney privilege, confidential crime-reporting lines, and providing defence attorneys full disclosure of evidence and so forth.

APRIL

Mickey Rooney in 'The Muppets' (2011)

Mickey Rooney in ‘The Muppets’ (2011)

Peaches Geldof-6920856 April: death of Mickey Rooney (b. 1920), a child star in the 1920s and 30s and still making movies and being a Hollywood star in the 21st century: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Boys Town (1938), National Velvet (1944), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), the Andy Hardy series — over 200 movies in all (15 of them since 2000!!)

7 April: death announced today of Peaches Geldof (b. 1989), Bob Geldof and Paula Yates’ daughter. A wild one, party girl, famous for being famous — at least, famous for being related to people who are/were famous. Only 25 she was on her second marriage, but it seemed like this one was really working out (she had two young sons). Her last Tweet was a photo of herself in the arms of her mother (who died of a heroin OD in 2000). Text with Tweeted photo said ‘Me and mum’. (Update, 24 July: coroner’s report says she died, as suspected, of a heroin OD; she was off it for two years or so and had fallen off the wagon, as we say; she had a secret stash in the attic but her tolerance for it had dramatically declined and she misjudged the dosage.)

8 April: today marks the beginning of the first formal state visit by an Irish head of state to the UK (reciprocating the queen’s state visit to Ireland in May 2011). Just watched the speeches at the banquet at Windsor Castle and, in fairness, it has to be said that little Michael D. is doing us proud, very nice little speech, Mr Higgins (not too long, not too blustery, not too obsequious, just about perfect). He’s got a busy few days — Prince of Wales reception earlier at lunchtime today, speech to a joint session of Lords and Commons [the houses of parliament] this afternoon, and Windsor Castle banquet this evening; and then tomorrow lunch in Downing Street with David Cameron, afternoon get-together with London Mayor Boris Johnson, and then a Lord Mayor’s banquet in the City of London. And there’s an address to the Royal Society in there somewhere too, plus trips to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, events with various Irish in Britain groups, and a concert of Irish culture at the Royal Albert Hall…a lot of stuff (it’s a 3-day trip) — the little guy is in his 70s! Anyway, he’s doing very well (not many who could carry off all these kinds of things so well).

President Higgins and his wife Sabina with HM Queen Elizabeth the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle

President Higgins and his wife Sabina with HM Queen Elizabeth the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle

10 April: death of British author Sue Townsend (b. 1936), most famous for her Adrian Mole series of books about a self-conscious boy (and young man) growing up in 1980s and 90s Britain (comedy and social commentary).

Boko Haram14 April: Horrific twin car-bombings in Nigerian capital today, at least 80 dead; it is believed that the Islamist group Boko Haram are responsible. Nigeria seems to be sliding towards a sort of civil war like situation. Also 235 schools girls attending a Christian school in the north of the country (which is the predominately Muslim part of Nigeria) have been abducted (“Boko Haram” is an anti-Western-education slogan, literally translating as “Western education is a sin” [*however, see endnote, below], and therefore unsurprisingly the movement especially targets schools). In Europe, we only hear of the outrages by the Islamist group, however, of course, the Nigerian forces (no doubt) will be repaying all such horror in kind—I’ve heard a Nigerian politician (on the BBC World Service) call for the expulsion of all Muslins from the state—thereby alienating the northern Muslims even more and strengthening the Boko Haram on the ground, binding them to the community in which they operate with hoops of steel: tit for tat and so it goes…

[*Endnote: I would like to know for sure what this really translates as, and what it’s meant to mean; “Western Education is a Sin” or any such formulation sounds like a poor slogan to me, I’ve a feeling that it probably rejects western culture as a whole, westernisation, our materialism and secularism etc, (which is a perfectly rational choice to make if you have a set of values other than those of western industrialized societies) however spin-doctors working for western war-mongers have rendered it as “Western Education is a Sin”, which is clearly more damaging in terms of PR, it allows the western authorities to say “These savages are against education!!”/”What kind of movement is against education?”, the subtext to which is, of course, that we must continue to support the War on Terror because these savages would return us all to the Stone Age if they get their way. Even so, let me be very clear, I don’t think the Boko Haram boys are up to any good (I would not like to live under their rule); I like western culture and I would seek to uphold western values (for all our faults); I don’t like being manipulated is all I’m saying.]

14 April: The Guardian and the Washington Post have been jointly awarded the Pulitzer prize for public service for their articles on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities based on the leaks of NSA lamplighter Edward Snowden (a series of articles beginning in June of last year; see ‘Diary’ for June 2013). The award comes 10 months after the Guardian published the first report based on the Snowden files, revealing the agency’s bulk collection of US citizens’ phone records.

pulitzer_logo

The Pulitzer prize administered by Columbia University

At the Guardian, the NSA reporting was led by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and film-maker Laura Poitras, and at the Post the reporting team was led by Barton Gellman co-operating with Poitras.

In a statement (following the announcement by the Pulitzer prize committee), Edward Snowden said: “Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance.”

 

Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald

Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald

The NSA revelations have reverberated around the world and sparked a debate in the US over the balance between national security and personal privacy. On the back of the disclosures, President Obama ordered a White House review into data surveillance, a number of congressional reform bills have been introduced, and protections have begun to be put in place to safeguard privacy for foreign leaders and to increase scrutiny over the NSA’s mass data collection.

The main disclosures brought to public attention by way of the reporting of the Snowden files by The Guardian and The Washington Post include:

• the NSA’s mass dragnet of phone records of millions upon millions of Americans.

• the program codenamed ‘Prism’ used by the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ to gain back-door entry into the data of nine giant internet companies including Google and Facebook.

• the cracking of internet encryption by the NSA and GCHQ that undermined personal security for web users.

• NSA surveillance of phone calls made by world leaders (including those of friendly states).

“We are truly honoured that our journalism has been recognised with the Pulitzer prize,” said Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian. “This was a complex story, written, edited and produced by a team of wonderful journalists. We are particularly grateful for our colleagues across the world who supported the us in circumstances which threatened to stifle our reporting. And we share this honour, not only with our colleagues at the Washington Post, but also with Edward Snowden, who risked so much in the cause of the public service which has today been acknowledged by the award of this prestigious prize.”

(Above: a Young Turks report on Alan Rusbridger’s appearance before the Home Affairs committee of the House of Commons in December 2013.)

The Guardian’s US operation, headquartered in New York, was incorporated as an American company in 2011 and recognised last year by the Pulitzer board as a US news outlet eligible to be considered for its prizes.

The coverage of the Snowden leaks presented a particularly thorny issue for the 19-strong panel of journalists, academics and writers who recommend the winners. The stream of disclosures invoked strong and polarised reactions in the US and around the world.

In January of this year, President Obama said that the debate on the acceptable limits of government surveillance prompted by the articles “will make us stronger”. But other prominent US politicians such as Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, have tagged Snowden “a traitor” and argued that journalism based on Snowden’s leaks was tantamount to trading stolen goods.

Snowden has been charged with three offences in the US. He is the eighth person to be charged with breaking the (draconian) 1917 Espionage Act by the Obama administration – more than all the prosecutions brought under previous presidents combined.

Below is another Young Turks report on another appearance before a parliamentary [congressional] committee directly related to the whole story [and may even have been the thing that finally propelled Snowden to blow the whistle on all this — which is nothing less than the putting in place of an architecture of tyranny: they do not use it against us now, so far as we know, but no doubt they will do if they feel they need to, “Turn-key tyranny” as Snowden characterized it in his interview with Greenwald filmed by Poitras in 2013 (see ‘Diary’ for June 2013)].

 

17 April: death of Colombian author and Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez (b. 1927) — One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), etc.

17 April 201417 April: former directors of Anglo-Irish Bank William McAteer and Pat Wheelan found guilty of illegally providing bank loans for the purpose of buying bank shares to shore up the share-value of the bank which was in free-fall as a result of reckless lending in the Celtic Tiger years. Sean FitzPatrick, former chairman of the bank, wriggled himself out of the noose and was found ‘not guilty’ on all charges (although he faces other charges — relating to loans he took out with Irish Nationwide for the purposes of falsely boosting the bank’s accounts — for which he is expected to be brought to trial later this year). McAteer and Wheelan could get up to five years jail time for the charges on which they have been convicted, however, appeals are expected so no one should go holding their breath.

ukraine-crisisOn-going (since before Easter): Russian nationalists are reusing the Crimean play-book (which, after all, worked a treat for them in Crimea) in territories in east Ukraine, taking over public buildings, communication systems, setting up road-blocks and so forth, basically trying to provoke the government in Kiev into reacting (at which time the massed Russian forces just across the border will step in and drop a hammer on the weak-sauce forces of the Ukrainians—Russia still does not even recognise the newly established authorities in Kiev, whom they refer to as “terrorists” and “radicals” and so on). So far, pro-Russian forces have taken hostages, shot some people, and brought down two Ukrainian helicopters. Effectively, Russia has annexed whole chunks of east Ukraine now as well as Crimea (while still pretending that the “men in green” are just local militia units over whom they have but limited control—same BS as in Crimea).

22 April: Man United sack David Moyes (after only 4 seasons: summer, autumn, winter, and spring). It’s been coming for weeks now but the end of it all came in their hopeless display at the weekend against Everton (who, under Roberto Martinez, have actually been doing better since Moyes left and are now challenging Arsenal for the 4th Champions League place).

MAY

1 May: death of British actor Bob Hoskins announced (aged 71); Pennys from Heaven, The Long Good Friday, etc.

Gerry_Adams_Easter_Lily_Badge1 May: In Northern Ireland, Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein and TD for Louth in the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, has been taken in for questioning in relation to the abduction, disappearance, and execution of Jean McConville back in 1972, who the IRA claimed was an informer. Turns out they were wrong, she was not a police informer; she was an innocent woman, a mother of 10 young children (it seems her only crime was she was a Protestant in a ‘mixed marriage’, a warning to others). She was brutally beaten before they executed her. Her body was eventually recovered from a beach in Co. Louth, years afterwards. Gerry Adams, as all the world knows, was a commander of the IRA in Belfast at that time; very little happened in that territory without his say so, especially in the Divis Flats (although, of course, incredibly, he and all the SF people continue with the line that Adams never was an IRA member). SF say that Adams’ detention just now, in the middle of local and European election campaigns north and south (with SF expected to do very well in the south where the governing parties are unpopular, Fianna Fail are still toxic after the economic collapse, and Greens and Progressive Democrats have disappeared of the face of the political earth), is politically motivated, which is probably true — but, hey, that’s politics, baby; one of the reasons you shouldn’t abduct, disappear, and execute innocent people is that it might come back to bite you in the ass 42 years later in the middle of an election cycle!

China economy1 May: World Bank figures out today suggest that China is about to overtake the U.S. as the biggest economy. Given the growth rates it has been accepted for some time that this would happen eventually, probably in the 2020s, however it looks like it will happen towards the end of this year or perhaps in 2015—growth in the U.S. is sluggish (1% a year or so & the U.S. economy has only recently returned to growth) while the Chinese economy has grown 24% since 2011. The U.S. has been the world’s biggest economy since 1872 when it surged past that of Britain (looks like we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Age of America; in truth, we’ve been witnessing it for some time now—it may be that we are living through the middle of the endgame of the American empire).

Iraq elections1 May: voters in Iraq go to the polls today to elect a government for the first time since the withdrawal of U.S. and Allied forces. The country is in chaos, about a thousand a month dead in political violence (and then all the injured and maimed and bereaved on top of that along with all the witnesses of all that horror, poisoning the well for goodness knows how long); over 160 dead this week past alone (can you imagine standing in line someplace in Iraq to take your turn in the polling place?)

2 May: British celebrity publicist Max Clifford, 71, has been sentenced to eight years in jail for a string of indecent assaults against girls and young women.

Max Clifford

Alan Shatter7 May: Alan Shatter finally resigns; this story to do with mishandling police whistleblowers has been dragging on for weeks, months (see, for example 26 February and 25 March).

11 May: Man City win the English Premiership (2 points ahead of Liverpool and 4 ahead of Chelsea; one of the most competitive and entertaining Premiership campaigns in years)

South African president Jacob Zuma

South African president Jacob Zuma

11 May: Despite all the corruption, incompetence, crime and so forth, the governing ANC got 62% of all votes cast in the South African general elections on May 7th. The Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition, trailed with 22%, up from 17% in 2009. The ruling party’s majority, down from 66%, was the smallest it has achieved in the five multiracial elections held since 1994. Yet by any other standard it was a sturdy victory. (As with the Congress Party in India, or Fianna Fail in Ireland, and other liberation movements in other territories, I guess it is going to take a lifetime or more before a majority in South Africa become fully alive to the fact that they’re giving power to nothing short of a parcel of rogues. More than a third of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed. And President Jacob Zuma, the ruling party’s leader, is embroiled in a scandal over $25m of public money spent on his private home. Yet the liberal DA’s focus on corruption barely dented the ANC majority. Only days before the election, Mr Zuma had bullishly declared that his home was not an issue for voters, except for “very clever people”.)

Tempers fray over Turkey mine disaster14 May: Nearly 300 miners have died in a mining disaster in western Turkey. These mines were only recently privatized by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and ever since privatization there has been constant concerns about [cost-cutting and] safety, apparently, such that this disaster is now turning into an anti-government event, not helped at all by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seeming to say, in effect, “It’s mining, these things happen”, which is unbelievably insensitive. And stupid because it was only this time last year that Turkey was convulsed with anti-government protests to do with the Gezi Park development which, despite the government blocking YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites (in an effort to put a stop to stories about government corruption and injustice), only need a spark to get going again, and this may well be that spark. Police water cannon have already been used on crowds gathering at the mines (not all the bodies have been brought out yet). And then this happened (pictured) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits the scene of the disaster and a protester blocks the prime minister’s car (or some other kind of breach of the VIP exclusion zone) and one of the prime minister’s senior aides lays into the guy while two soldiers hold him in position so that the kicks are as effective as possible. Lovely PR, prime minister (tick tock, tick tock, your days are numbered).

Narendra Modi victory16 MayIndia’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won power in landslide. This election saw one of the largest turnouts in Indian history and Narendra Modi’s BJP has achieved an overwhelming victory (the once all-powerful Congress Party has had its ass handed to it). And it is Narendra Modi’s victory, the controversial figure was front and centre in the campaign, which, apparently, increased the BJP’s margin of victory. The BJP leader, who has been chief minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001, is regarded as a dynamic and efficient politician who has helped to make his state an economic powerhouse. But he also is accused of doing little to stop the 2002 religious riots when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed – allegations he has consistently denied. Nevertheless, Mr Modi became an international pariah after the riots – the US denied him visas and the UK cut off all ties with him. But a decade later, the controversial politician has been reintegrated into the political mainstream. And now he is the unassailable leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth.

Wenger17 May: Arsenal win the FA Cup in a 4-3 thriller against plucky Hull. The victory brings to an end a 9-year silverware drought for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (who has lost lost five or six finals in those nine years) who, despite leading the club to European Champions League football for 17 years in a row and all the rest of what he’s done there (including, now, 5 FA Cups and 3 Premier League titles) has been coming under a bit of pressure of late (such that, for example, a few weeks ago Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho could mock him as “a specialist in failure”).

Thailand22 May: Following months and months of political instability (years, in fact), Thailand’s military has announced it is taking control of the government and has suspended the constitution. In a TV statement, army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to restore order and enact political reforms. The cabinet has been told to report to the military, TV broadcasting is suspended and political gatherings are banned. A nationwide curfew will operate from 22:00 to 05:00 local time. On Tuesday (20th) the army imposed martial law. Talks were then held between the main political factions, but the army announced the full coup today (Thursday).

22 MayAbout 180 people estimated to have been killed in two car-bomb attacks in Nigeria (see also 14 April).

Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party who retained his position as one of the MEPs for South East England (a seat to which he was first elected in 2009)

Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party who retained his position as one of the MEPs for South East England (a seat to which he was first elected in 2009)

22 to 26 May: Anti-establishment political parties and independents absolutely killed in European elections over the weekend. UKIP in the UK (where they topped the polls with 28% [24 seats], Labour 25% [20 seats] and Tories 24% [19 seats], while the Liberal Democrats have been nearly wiped out), Sinn Fein in Ireland where they won 3 of the 11 European seats [the Irish Labour Party lost all its European possessions]) and in France the National Front with 25%, getting 25 seats; President Hollande’s Socialists with just 14% — their worst ever performance in a European election. In addition, in Britain and Ireland there were local council elections and it was a similar story: the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Labour Party in Ireland (both junior parties in coalition governments that have been implementing austerity measures) getting the worst of it, and UKIP and Sinn Fein having days of wine and roses (SF trebled its number of local authority seats and, from here, look set to vastly increase their representation in the national parliament when the general election comes; similarly UKIP, if they can keep their show on the road, look like they will have — one way or another — a decisive role in the general election there, which is scheduled for this time next year). Both Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems in UK, and Eamon Gilmore, the Irish Labour Party leader, are facing open revolts in their respective parties.

24 May: [Too Big to Jail:] In a Federal Court in the U.S. the Credit Suisse bank has pleaded guilty to “conspiring to aid tax evasion” and been fined $2.6bn. The tax fraud of which it has been convicted is not its own, but that of its customers. Among the Swiss bank’s customers are thousands of US citizens whom it has illegally been helping to evade US taxes. This is not “tax planning”, which is making the best legal use of existing tax reliefs to minimize tax liability. The US citizens concerned have committed the crime of tax evasion. Credit Suisse has committed the crime of helping them to do it. This is not the first time this bank has been caught for offences of this nature — it has, it seems, a whole string of out of court settlements to do with the like — and note the fact that no executive has faced any charges for any offence even though what is at issue is a felony. And then, apparently, $2.6 billion is no big deal for this banking group who have probably earned multiples of that amount in doing what they’ve been convicted of doing (not to mention what they’ve probably got away with). And their licence to practice in the U.S. market has not been restricted or threatened in any way (just pay the fine and carry on). 

Carlo Ancelotti24 MayIn the Champions League Final in Lisbon, Real Madrid defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1 AET (the previous weekend Atletico won the La Liga so it was prizes for everyone — except Barcelona who got nothing this season except a new manager). This is the 10th time Real Madrid have won Europe’s top football prize, the long sought after ‘La Decima’  (3 more times than A.C. Milan who have won it seven times; Liverpool and Bayern Munich five times each, Barcelona and Ajax four times each, and Manchester United and Inter Milan three times each). Carlo Ancelotti has become the first manager since Liverpool’s Bob Paisley to lift the trophy three times (he won it previously with Milan, twice as a player and twice as a manager).

Eamon Gilmore26 May: Because of the almost total wipe-out in the European and local elections (see 22 – 26 May, above), Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Irish Labour, has announced today that he is stepping down to allow for a new leader to begin the work of rebuilding the party. In the 2011 general election Gilmore led Labour to the best electoral performance in the party’s 99-year history. The party won 37 seats, its most ever. It did especially well in Dublin, taking 18 seats to become the largest party in the capital. After the European and local elections at weekend all of these gains now look very vulnerable, and the party appears likely to go they way of the Greens [in 2009-11], which is to say get all but wiped off the face of the political map (and, one suspects, changing the face on the poster is not going to do too much in assisting them to avoid this fate).

MayaAngelou28 May: Author, poet and activist Maya Angelou, best known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, dies aged 86.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

[….]

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise […]

JUNE

King of Spain2 June: King Juan Carlos of Spain (who has been king since the death of General Franco in 1975 and has overseen the return of democratic government in Spain) announces that he will abdicate in favour of his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias (also pictured in the picture above is Queen Sofia, wife of King Juan Carlos and mother of Crown Prince Felipe); the abdication will be effected as soon as the enabling legislation is put through parliament.

Fr Michael Cleary in his pomp, the face of the Irish Catholic church during the last of the great days of the Irish theocratic state (which were not 'great' at all, they were fucking miserable)

Fr Michael Cleary in his pomp, the face of the Irish Catholic church during the last of the great days of the Irish theocratic state (which were not ‘great’ at all, by the by, they were fucking miserable)

4 June: THE BODIES OF 796 CHILDREN, between the ages of two days and nine years old, have been found in a disused sewage tank* in Tuam, County Galway (in Ireland). They died between 1925 and 1961 in a Mother and Baby Home run by the Bon Secours sisters. (Will this cancerous nightmare of 19th and 20th century Irish Catholic hegemony never end? — and I confidently predict we are not anywhere near the last of it yet.) Locals have known about the grave since the 1970s, apparently, when two boys, playing, broke apart the concrete slab covering the tank and discovered what was a tomb filled with small skeletons. A parish priest said prayers at the site, and it was sealed once more, the number of bodies below unknown, their names forgotten. (And, of course, no investigation or inquiry — not even a news story — because in the 1970s the Irish Catholic church was still all-powerful.) However, Tuam historian Catherine Corless discovered the extent of the mass grave when she requested records of children’s deaths in the home. The births and deaths registrar in Galway gave her almost 800. Shocked, she checked 100 of these against graveyard burials, and found only one little boy who had been returned to a family plot. The vast majority of the children’s remains, it seemed, were in the septic tank. Corless and a committee have since been working to raise money for a memorial that includes a plaque bearing each child’s name. (For those of you unfamiliar with how, until the 1990s, Ireland dealt with unmarried mothers and their children, here it is: the women were incarcerated in state-funded, church-run institutions called mother and baby homes or Magdalene asylums, where they worked to atone for their sins. Their children were taken from them.) According to Corless, death rates for children in the Tuam mother and baby home, and in similar institutions, were four to five times that of the general population. A health board report from 1944 on the Tuam home describes emaciated, potbellied children, mentally unwell mothers and appalling overcrowding. As Emer O’Toole writes in the Guardian (Wednesday, 4 June), “Ireland knows all this. We know about the abuse women and children suffered at the hands of the clergy, abuse funded by a theocratic Irish state. What we didn’t know is that they threw dead children into unmarked mass graves.” The archbishop of Tuam and the head of the Irish Bon Secours sisters will soon meet to discuss the memorial and service planned at the site. The Bon Secours sisters have, apparently, donated what the Irish TV station RTÉ describes as “a small sum” to the children’s graveyard committee. Father Fintan Monaghan, secretary of the Tuam archediocese, says: “I suppose we can’t really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens. All we can do is mark it appropriately and make sure there is a suitable place here where people can come and remember the babies that died.” In the Guardian article O’Toole continues, “Let’s not judge the past on our morals, then, but on the morals of the time. Was it OK, in mid-20th century Ireland, to throw the bodies of dead children into sewage tanks? Monaghan is really saying: “don’t judge the past at all”. And (powerfully and correctly) O’Toole concludes “Monaghan is correct that we need to mark history appropriately. That’s why I am offering the following suggestions as to what the church should do to in response: Do not say Catholic prayers over these dead children. Don’t insult those who were in life despised and abused by you. Instead, tell us where the rest of the bodies are. There were homes throughout Ireland, outrageous child mortality rates in each. Were the Tuam Bon Secours sisters an anomalous, rebellious sect? Or were church practices much the same the country over? If so, how many died in each of these homes? What are their names? Where are their graves? We don’t need more platitudinous damage control, but the truth about our history.”

*Update: since this story was originally published spokespeople for the Catholic church have been pushing back in respect of various ‘creative details’ in this story, particularly the point about it being a ‘sewage tank’: apparently it was not a sewage tank. However, to push back on little points like this is to [purposely?] sidestep the larger point which that hundreds of these infant corpses were thrown into a whole in the ground, unmarked, unrecorded, unloved, unmourned, unwanted, some of them having died as a result of vaccine trials carried out by British drug companies for which the church authorities profited. It’s your attitude to these innocent infants which is the centrepoint in this story, the really horrible part — the crime, the sin, the stain , what name you put on that hole in the ground is irrelevant. However, of course, attempting to push back like this tells us a lot about their continuing state of mind, which is defensive and utterly unrepentant. Your day will come, you mendacious bitches, because (as David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas puts it) by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

Rafael Nadal8 June: Rafa Nadal wins his 9th French Open, his 5th in a row, which must be some kind of record, cruising past Andy Murray in the semi-final and Novak Djokovic in the final, and making it look easy.

8 JuneGeneral Abdel Fatah al-Sisi sworn in today as new president of Egypt having won the election (in which he was a Hobson’s choice candidate) by 97% or some made-up figure like that (only about 30 or 40% of the eligible electorate actually voted).

In a similar vein President Bashar al-Assad has just won a third term as president of Syria (also with 90-something % of the vote, of course).

9 JuneBritish comedy actor Rik Mayall dies aged only 56 (not clear why / from what as yet). Everybody still in shock. Especially famous for his portrayal of ‘Rick’ in BBC’s The Young Ones, also for his performances as the ambitious and inconsiderate politician Alan B’stard in The New Statesman (which were big hits in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain).

Iraq_ISIL_11_june__2938342b10 June: Iraq is coming apart at the seams: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (a group new to most of us in the west) has taken control of most of northwest Iraq (that is, those parts not already in the hands of the Kurds). The ISIL is now in control of Mosul, the second city in Iraq, and, having taken Tikrit and the like, is within striking range of Baghdad (80 or 90 miles away), apparently. The really important point about this group taking Mosul is that they did so (it seems) with a force of as few as 1,000, against a total of 30,000 Iraqi government forces in the Mosul area. Poorly motivated, the government forces simply fled in the face of a highly motivated group (and the bitches scarpered leaving all their U.S.-supplied equipment, including humvees and the like, even some aircraft apparently). Iraqi forces are almost all Shias and they do not really care about the loss of a Sunni city such as Mosul (the idea of the state of Iraq, which is a totally artificial construct, has no hold on anyone’s loyalty). Looks like Iraq is going to break up into a Kurdish part in the north, a Sunni part in the northwest, and a Shia part in the south. The only question is how many will die, and how much horror will people need to experience, before this is settled upon. By the by, ISIL is sometimes also ‘ISIS’, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and as far as they are concerned the war in Syria and the war in Iraq are the one war, so this is already much bigger than Iraq, involving not just Syria but also Jordan, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia (one of the main the founders of the ISIS group is Jordanian, and there are Sunni populations all over the region; many of these Iraqi Sunnis are Saddam Hussein’s military officials coming out of the ground now that the Americans are gone). Also, apparently, ISIL (or ISIS) are recruiting 80 per cent of 12,000 foreign fighters fighting in the region, Arabs, Europeans, Chechens, Pakistanis and so on, and now of course with these stories of amazing achievements they will recruit an awful lot more support (not least because they have equipment for 30,000 men to parcel out). This shit is only going to get worse (the Iraqi government is now calling for the U.S. to come back into the fight and do some targeted drone strikes against the ISIL/ISIS!! and it looks like Obama is going to oblige).

15 June: What with all the news from Iraq (see above) and all the sport on at the moment (World Cup, US Open [golf], Commonwealth Games, French Open [tennis] just finished and Wimbledon about to start, rugby and cricket tests and a whole lot more), this hardly even made the news at all, but in eastern Ukraine yesterday pro-Russian forces shot down a Ukrainian aeroplane killing 49 people, which is a serious escalation in events there. Up until now deaths have only been in twos and threes and the like, but shooting down an aeroplane as it is coming into land is a full-on act of terror and/or war, something requiring a robust response, which if it’s too robust will bring the Russians in to defend their people who, they will say, are being slaughtered; and not robust enough and Russia is simply bitch-slapping you about the place and having it’s way with you when ever it wants, which will only lead them to push for ever more).

Gerry Conlon (1954-2014) pictured 1989 when his conviction for the 1974 Guildford pub-bombings was quashed by the Court of Appeal

Gerry Conlon (1954-2014) pictured 1989 when his conviction for the 1974 Guildford pub-bombings was quashed by the Court of Appeal

21 June: death of Gerry Conlon, one of the ‘Guildford Four’ (four Irish people wrongly convicted of IRA pub-bombings in Guilford in 1974, convictions quashed in 1989)

rebekah_brooks_andy_coulson_ 24 June: The trial of New International’s Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, former editors of News International’s News of the World, has just come to an end (after 138 days of court proceedings — one of the longest-running and most expensive trials in British history): Brooks cleared on all counts, Coulson guilty of conspiring to illegally intercept communications. This trial is said to have cost the state around £100 million; News International is said to have spent five times that defending its people. It is a scandal that Brooks has got away scot-free (clearly she was up to her ginger minge all that was going on, she was Coulson’s lover, and his boss, and it seems very clear that she was involved in disappearing files and computers and other evidence which has saved not only her own ass but also that of News International, although clearly the prosecution could not make this charge stick because, presumably, her first-class lawyers were able to sow enough doubt at strategic points); goes to show the power of almost unlimited money. Powerful political repercussions from this too because Coulson was Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications, which raises questions about Cameron’s judgement, and indeed about his character because Cameron was warned about Coulson on several occasions but chose to ignore all the warnings (see below for exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions on the day following the verdict in the Coulson-Brooks case); Cameron is close to Brooks and to her present husband Charlie Brooks, and, clearly, reassurances from her (and others at News International) counted for more in Cameron’s judgement than stone-cold facts presented by people who are not part of Cameron’s horsey Oxfordshire county set. However, on balance, I doubt if these political repercussions will actually impact the result of the up-coming general election which is due in less than a year (tiresomely almost everything is already in campaign mode), but they will, I feel sure, fuel the cancer that will rot Cameron’s premiership — is already rotting it (Cameron looks like he’s on thin ice in this PMQs exchange, which is one of Miliband’s best performances for a long time). For previous on this story, see stories in January 2011 and February 2012.

30 June: death announced of Irish writer Dermot Healy (b. 1947), author of The Bend for Home (1996), Goat’s Song (1994), Long Time, No See (2011), etc.

JULY

4 July: Andy Coulson’s got 18 months (rather on the light side in my view; I would have thought 3 to 5 years at a minimium). Update, 28 July: Wonderful series on the culture of Murdoch’s regime running in the Guardian (25 and 28 July), extracts from Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch (2014), a book by Nick Davies:

quotation-marksA monstering from Murdoch’s droogs is a terrible experience. If the damage they did were physical – visible – the courts could jail them for years. As it is, they inflict grievous emotional harm, the kind of injury from which some victims simply never recover. Indeed, there are some who have been left suicidal by the experience. It can come out of nowhere, picking on some off-the-cuff statement or some tiny detail that has caught nobody else’s eye, least of all the victim’s, and suddenly the violence begins. It can be completely arbitrary in its choice of target. If Miss Muffet abandons her tuffet because of the approaching spider, the droogs can choose to attack her for cowardice; or to attack the spider for indecency and threatening behaviour.

Hack-Attack-The-Inside-Story-of-How-the-Truth-Caught-Up-with-Rupert-MurdochOnce it starts, the monstering cannot be stopped by the victim. If the spider says he meant no harm, he was simply looking for somewhere to sit, then “an unrepentant spider last night threatened to spread his regime of fear”. Apologising will not work – “a humiliating climbdown”. Nor will refusing to apologise – “an increasingly isolated spider”. There is no end to the potential angles. The droogs will call everybody who ever sat next to the spider until they find somebody else who didn’t like him. They will comb through arachnophobes everywhere, in search of alarmist quotes and calls for action. They can keep it going for days. A little distortion here, some fabrication there. The fact of the focus is itself a distortion: the relentless return to the same victim, the desire to destroy that corrupts normal editorial judgement. Often, other newspapers and broadcast bulletins will join in, so that simple commercial competition encourages the hunt for a new angle. The spider is helpless – if he speaks out, he fuels the story; if he stays quiet, the story tramples him.

It is a curious fact that Murdoch holds no fear for ordinary people: most could not care less about him; the few who do care, tend to hold him in contempt as a model of avarice with his seven homes around the globe and his annual income touching $22m. But among those who play the power game, certainly, beneath the courtesy and the conversation, there is a quiet fear…

But above all, the fear is generated by the people he hires to work for him. “He loves thugs,” as one of his senior executives puts it. Roger Ailes at Fox TV; Kelvin MacKenzie at the Sun; Col Allan at the New York Post; Sam Chisholm at Sky TV: they all came out of the same box, marked “bully”. And when Murdoch’s men bully, their victims really feel it. All these members of Quotation-Markthe power elite have seen what Murdoch’s news outlets can do, using their stories in the same way muggers in back alleys use their boots, to kick a victim to pulp. “Monstering”, they call it – a savage and prolonged public attack on a target’s life, often aimed at the most private and sensitive part of their existence, their sexual behaviour, inflicting maximum pain and maximum humiliation.

Rolf Harris 34 JulyRolf Harris (85) got 5 years for sexually abusing under-age girls (he was sentenced in accordance with the punishments in force when the offences were committed, which were much less severe 30 years ago).

6 July: Novak Djokovic wins Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon beating the 7-time champion Roger Federer in five sets (this is Djokovic’s second Wimbledon Championship, having won it previously in 2011, and his seventh Grand Slam title in all). Defending champion Andy Murray was knocked out in the quarter-finals. Petra Kitova of the Czech Republic won the women’s title, beating Switzerland’s Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets.

Wimbledon 20149 July: 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil at the semi-final stage (semi-final #1): Brazil 1 Germany 7; see below for match report from your local correspondent

10 July: 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil at the semi-final stage (semi-final #2): Argentina beat Holland 4-2 on penalties after extra time (0-0 after 90 minutes and 0-0 after 120 minutes); see below for match report from your local correspondent

10 July: Israel-Palestinian situation has flared up horribly again (it never really stops, but matters are such that it’s back in the news again; aside from the World Cup this is shaping up to be the main news-media-entertainment-docu-drama narrative for the summer): first, 3 Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and, eventually, found dead; then, after the funerals for these kids, a bunch of Israeli zealots abducted a Palestinian teenager and burned him alive in a revenge atrocity. This in turn started off days and nights of rioting which has led to still more violence and now (for the past three or four days) the Israeli air force is bombing the Palestinian Gaza ghetto where the people are trapped like rats in a barrel (at least 76 dead as I write, including many women and children and never is there a report about what’s going on without spokesperson for the Israeli government given an unopposed opportunity to gloss over the facts of the matter, at least not on the BBC; their assurances that every effort is made to avoid killing innocents is clearly a misrepresentation because they believe almost all the people in the West Bank and Gaza ghettos are non-innocents by virtue of the fact that they oppose the Israeli occupation of what they see as Palestinian lands). Israel is now, apparently, making plans for a ground incursion (the air force strikes are to soften-up these ghettoized and brutalized people). The Israelis say that Hamas (or whomsoever) are firing rockets into Israeli territory, however what is “Israeli territory” is the issue, for fuck sake, and a very contested one at that and, secondly, I don’t believe that the home-made shit-ass “rockets” the Palestinians have amount to a hill of sand compared to the multi-billion dollar armed forces the Israelis have (supplied by the U.S. and subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer). In some reports these Palestinian efforts are described as “rockets” and in others “projectiles”, however, a stone shot from a sling-shot is a projectile (and I’m fairly sure that what’s being fired at Israel is far more to the ‘projectile’ end of the spectrum than to the ‘rocket’ end). This is a David and Goliath situation on steroids (with the Palestinians being David-with-the-slingshot). See below for a Young Turks report on the situation from earlier this week which seems to me to be perfectly reasonable reading of the situation (a situation that has only escalated in every 24-hour cycle since):

Hot summer 310 July: Should also record that it is a really good summer so far; it is so rare to get long stretches of fine summer weather in Ireland, it has to be recorded (and acknowledged and celebrated) when it happens (ie, it is newsworthy). Perhaps not as hot and sustained as last summer but very good nevertheless: May was good (not spectacular but fine), June was excellent, and July is continuing really fine (the forecast for July is broken  for this coming weekend, for example; however, last weekend was forecast to be broken too and, as it turned out, it was really good: always a chance of a sudden summer downpour but on the whole good, sunny but not too hot). What’s really great about this summer is that it has come so early such that no matter what happens now we feel we’ve had a good summer.

German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer celebrates in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro after his side won the 2014 World Cup. Neuer was one of the players of the tournament, the other, for me, was the German captain Philipp Lahm.

German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer celebrates in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro after his side won the 2014 World Cup; Neuer, who performs a ‘sweeper-keeper’ role, was one of the players of the tournament (another clean sheet in the final), the other [player of the tournament], for me, was the German captain Philipp Lahm.

14 July: Final 2014 World Cup report (report on the final which Germany won beating Argentina 1-0 in extra-time)

gaza-dead-kids17 July: Having killed over 250 people with a week of airstrikes, 80% of whom are innocents (including four boys playing football on an open beach), Israel has begun a ground incursion into the Gaza strip, the central purpose of which it appears is to destroy the network of tunnels the Palestinians have developed to get around the almost total blockade of the territory imposed by the Israelis (without which they can get no supplies let alone develop any kind of economic life or have anything at the centre of its existence aside from the occupation).

17 July: A Malaysian Airways jet has been shot down over eastern Ukraine by (it looks like) pro-Russian break-away Ukrainian rebels (using surface to air missiles supplied by Russian forces  the the break-away Ukrainians have been shooting down Ukrainian airforce traffic but it was thought that international commercial traffic at north of 30,000 feet would be outside the danger area of the conflict zone). Looks like the pro-Russian forces who were supplied with this equipment could not (or did not bother to) attempt to distinguish between a huge passenger jet and a military transport aircraft. 295 dead, Dutch, Americans, British. Russians blame the Ukrainians because, they say, the Ukrainians started the whole conflict in the first place [ie, by overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych at the beginning of the year]!!!  and this, by the by, was President Putin himself speaking!!

19 July: Cartoon (by Peter Brookes) in the London Times today about the Malaysian Airways disaster in Ukraine (see 17 July, above).

Peter Brookes London Timesjames-garner20 July: Death of film and television actor James Garner (b. 1928), best known perhaps for his lead role in television’s The Rockford Files in which he played down-at-heel PI Jim Rockford who lives in a mobile home in a parking lot near Malibu beach in Los Angeles (California) just about making ends meet, a series which ran for 6 seasons in the middle to late 1970s and was widely syndicated (still is, even to this day). Garner was one of the first film and television cross-over stars, which is very common nowadays but back then you had film stars and (a lesser breed) television people and very rarely did they crossover (and only very very rarely did they do so successfully, Garner, perhaps, being the best example of this rare phenomenon).

British Open20 July: Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy wins 143rd British Open to become only the third player to win three Majors by the age of 25, joining Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus (McIlroy won the U.S. Open in 2011 and the PGA Championship in 2012). Only the Masters to win now for what would be a career Grand Slam.

21 July: 62 Palestinians dead yesterday and 13 Israeli soldiers in the worst day (in terms of numbers dead) of this two-week flare-up (Israeli forces are now on the ground in the Gaza strip destroying what they call “terror tunnels”). In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer over the weekend Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Hamas was responsible for the dead Palestinians (particularly the children) because it was seeking “telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause”!!!

27 July: This week alone (the worst week in a long time) there are over 1,700 dead in the fighting in Syria, which is a conflict that continues to bubble along in the background, just happens to have boiled over a little bit this week so that we notice. Syria, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, the whole region is a nightmare (a nightmare for which we in the west are responsible in no small part, most immediately, of course, the Bush-Blair campaigns). ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is the universal bogeyman nowadays (see 10 June, above), whereas it used to be Al Qaeda, and I suppose Assad is stepping up his activities against ISIS-held areas so that he can begin to inch his regime out of the corner it has gotten itself into; presumably he wants to indicate that he is one of the “good guys” and he’s been fighting the good fight all along (we had simply misunderstood him).

Israeli war27 July: Now over a 1,000 dead Palestinians (30 or 40 dead Israeli soldiers). Of course there would not be any dead Israelis if they did not insist on the ground operation but there are elections coming in Israel and fear and aggression is what Netanyahu and his allies have to bring to the political marketplace (Netanyahu’s approval ratings have soared, as have Hamas’ in Gaza and the West Bank). However, the whole thing is playing very badly across the world, even in the USA there are more and more people saying “Whoa! Are you sure that more war and more killing and more horror is the best way forward?” and “Is it really necessary to have so many dead kids?” (which is something I’ve never heard before, not at this level). I think we might look back on this (combined with the 2009 incursion in which the death ratio was about 1,000 Palestinians to about 12 Israelis) and see it as a turning point  it is as clear as day that Binyamin Netanyahu has no interest in peace whatever (and, by inference, in my view, no interest in the long-term security of Israel: ‘Peace through Strength’ [with nothing at all to go with it] is bullshit, and it’s going to collapse about their ears). Social media is full of critical-of-Israel stuff (my feeds are anyway), never seen anything like it, like an ash-cloud of critical fragments, stuff like the above and the report by Jon Snow of Britain’s Channel 4 News, below.

27 July: In today’s New York Times they have an opinion editorial calling for an end to the War on Drugs, which they compare to the pointless folly of Prohibition in the 1920s, especially decriminalizing weed (the piece calls for letting the states decide, ie, have no federal mandates, which is what they did at the end of Prohibition in 1933). We may have reached a tipping point with this (Colorado and the state of Washington have already legalized it and several other states, including California, Nevada, and most of the New England states have effectively decriminalized it; remember that three of the most recent US presidents [Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton] have admitted to marijuana use when younger, and yet under the ‘Three Strikes and you’re out Policy’ the US justice system is putting kids away for life for it  not for dealing it, for simple possession! and by grossly disproportionate ratios it is black kids they’re putting away [there are more black men incarcerated in US prisons right now (most of them for bullshit dope offences) than were slaves in the United States in total in the era of slavery; the US prison system is effectively as series of concentration camps for troublesome black youths]. The War on Drugs is really a war on black youths and on Hispanics and more generally on people at the shit-end of the social spectrum [college kids (ie, middle class white kids) tend to get ‘Community Service’ for same or similar offences], that’s what’s really criminal in the American criminal justice system [which, of course, is big business  a lot of people make a lot of money out of fighting the so-called ‘war on drugs’]!!).

PCI-30-IVOR-CALLELY00091710-310x41528 July: Former junior minister Ivor Callely has been jailed for five months for fraudulently claiming mobile expenses at Leinster House while he was a senator in the Irish parliament (see also 19 April 2013 and 5 June 2010). “Ivor Callely was convinced he would become taoiseach one day”, writes Miriam Lord in the Irish Times (Tuesday, 29 July). “Yesterday, he was sent to jail for fiddling his expenses. A pathetic closing chapter for the man who dreamed ridiculously big, but behaved like a small-time political shyster. Blinded by self-belief and an overweening sense of his own brilliance, Ivor Callely had a relentless ambition stood in marked contrast to his ability. But he could never see this, because nobody ever took Ivor as seriously as he took himself. Early on, this marked him out as a vaguely comical figure in a world where he craved high office and public respect. Callely had great notions about himself. From the moment he landed in Leinster House as a backbench TD, he adopted the swagger of success: big house, big car, big suit, big talk. Make no mistake, he was destined to be taoiseach. He knew from the time he was a toddler, when a fortune teller told his mother he was going to be president. Ivor would say it to amused interviewers with great sincerity. He would, of course, first rise to the challenges of a senior ministry or two. His talents would be recognised. He saw himself as “a visionary”. Bet he never saw Mountjoy coming when he was predicting this great future. But seeing Callely depart the Courts of Criminal Justice in a prison van yesterday morning wasn’t a huge surprise to those who have observed his calamitous career over the last couple of decades. In Fianna Fáil’s pantheon of political wide-boys, Ivor was a star. It seemed almost inevitable he would come to a bad end. In the heel of the hunt, it was bogus invoices for mobile phones that got him. Tacky and stupid and prepared in such a cack-handed way that it showed he couldn’t even fiddle his expenses properly.”

AUGUST

palestinians.si2 August: Killing continues in Gaza, 1,600 Palestinians and about 60 Israelis; it has been going on for over three weeks now, nearly four; 44% of the territory (which is like a slither of Los Angeles, 10 or 15 miles long by about 2 wide) is a no-go area (if you are in the no-go zone expect to get shelled and, by implication, if you do then get hit it’s your own fault because you’ve been warned), hundreds of thousands of people are in makeshift shelters where there’s no food or supplies, however even these places have been targeted. Hospital staff and UN workers, who have been at full emergency battle stations for weeks are exhausted. The number of injured and in need of attention can be put at ten times the number of dead. Whole neighbourhoods have been reduced to nothing but dust and rubble. Power-plants have been targeted and knocked out and the water system too, tap water is undrinkable in the territory (these are deliberate measures designed to punish a whole people for the actions of a few).

pict16This is far worse than anything seen in Apartheid South Africa or Jim Crow Alabama, this is more like what the Russians did in Chechnya. It is UNACCEPTABLE. The defenders of Israel are tying themselves up in knots in the service of their commitment (Israel is always the victim and Israel is always right; and the Palestinians want their children to be dead and maimed and terrified because it makes for good propaganda; it makes me sick to listen to them, and there is almost never a report without an Israel supporter given an opportunity to sooth over or explain away the unspeakable horror). However, the Israelis are losing the wider war too  even though they do not care about that as long as they have the tanks and guns and dollars and the Iron Dome [defence system] and the overwhelming support of the centre-right and and far-right and the Washington establishment in the United States  there is a level of criticism of this slaughter of innocents which has never been heard before, even in the United States [and it is a slaughter of innocents, a deliberate slaughter of innocents, the schools and hospitals that have been hit have been targeted  clearly Israeli policy is to terrorize the Palestinians away from supporting Hamas]. In a powerful opinion-piece in the Star newspaper in Canada, Gabor Maté, a survivor of the Holocaust, says the following (a piece which has had a lot of replay around the globe):

As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

[A couple of paragraphs later in conclusion he says this…]

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

A few days ago I met with one of my dearest friends, a comrade from Zionist days and now professor emeritus at an Israeli university. We spoke of everything but the daily savagery depicted on our TV screens. We both feared the rancour that would arise.

But, I want to say to my friend, can we not be sad together at what that beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to? Can we not grieve the death of innocents? I am sad these days. Can we not at least mourn together?

Gabor Maté, M.D., is a Vancouver-based author and speaker. The piece is headlined ‘The Beautiful Dream of Israel has become a Nightmare’ (it was published in The Star, on Tuesday, 22 July 2014). It is too awful that more genuine friends of Israel do not speak up like this.

real-madrid-man-u-big-house-michigan-crowd-20142 August: A friendly between Manchester United and Real Madrid set the US attendance record for a soccer match with an official tally of 109,318 fans. The record-breaking match took place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, commonly known as ‘The Big House’. The crowd broke the previous record of 101,799 which was set at the Rose Bowl for the 1984 Olympic final. (Of course it was only a pre-season friendly, Man U won 3-1; but the fact that it was but an exhibition encounter makes the number of people interested, and willing to pay out money in support of their interest, even more amazing. Soccer is really starting to take off in the USA, and not just following the national side in the World Cup every 4 years, also the domestic league, and also the number of cable TV companies securing customers for European club football, which is why such interest in a Madrid-Man U game.)

5 August: A ceasefire has been agreed in Gaza following a month of carnage (much of it deliberate see the Young Turks report below which is from last night, ie the last night before the ceasefire kicked in) with the final death tallies at 1,831 Palestinians and 67 Israelis. There’s been ceasefires before, of course, which have not lasted, but this one will, I think, because, on the one hand, by now even the most bloodthirsty Israeli will feel they have taught those Arab bitches a lesson they will not quickly forget and, on the other, this campaign in Gaza has become totally counter-productive in the outside world — seriously so. Of course, the Israelis do not really give a toss what the rest of the world thinks, except for the United States, even so, Israeli ambassadors have been sent home in protest from several South American countries and government ministers and significant government back-benchers are getting very twitchy in Britain [and prime minister Cameron knows he is out of step with the mood of the country viz his totally uncritical support for Israel in recent weeks which is why even Ed Miliband has called on Cameron to express some level of concern about the slaughter of so many innocents (Tory government minister Baroness Warsi, the only Muslim in the British cabinet, resigned from the government this morning saying she cannot continue to support the government in relation to it’s uncritical support for Israel)]; and even in the US, reading between the lines, people are saying “Stop this; these are starting to look very like War Crimes!!!”  Which indeed is what they are on any open-minded view. The UN have come right out and called them ‘crimes’ and I think it very likely that before long we will see a determined effort to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the International Criminal Court for murder, if not for full scale war crimes. Meantime watch this final report on the situation from Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks, which is full of interesting stuff (note especially the interview with Mike Bloomberg and Valerie Jarrett — Jarrett is one of Obama’s most trusted aides, she’s been with him from way back in his Chicago days; when she speaks, she’s speaking for Obama, no mistake about that).

Art installation at the Tower of London marking the centenary of the start of the First World War, a ceramic poppy for every one of the people who died in that slaughter, 888,246 of them

Art installation at the Tower of London marking the centenary of the start of the First World War, a ceramic poppy for every one of the people who died in that slaughter, 888,246 of them

5 August: “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” is an art installation on display at the Tower of London. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, the installation commemorates the one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in World War I (1914-18).

8 August: United States forces in action in Iraq again (the pulled out of Iraq in 2011), bombing ISIS held positions in northern Iraq (see 10 June, above).

ebola-virus9 August: The World Health Organisation has declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency. With 1,711 confirmed and suspected cases, and 932 deaths, the WHO said the outbreak was a public health risk to several west African states – particularly in view of “fragile health care systems” in the affected countries. The current outbreak began in Guinea in March and has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, with some cases in Nigeria. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50%. The virus has an incubation period of up to 21 days, meaning the flu-like symptoms do not necessarily show before then. Actual and suspected cases in some western countries now. Nevertheless, this seems to me like an August story — everyone’s at the beach, sailing or walking, and that Gaza well’s running dry, so get me some shit from somewhere, we’ve got space to fill. (A bit like the Swine Flu scare of 2009 — remember that? — which came and went; even so, one suspects/fears/anticipates that one of these days one of these bugs is really going to take hold and there’s going to be bodies everywhere. Maybe it’s this one, maybe the next; but it’s coming.)

quote marks 2aEbola virus disease (EVD) or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) — this is from Wikipedia (edited down a little bit) — is the human disease caused by the Ebola virus. Symptoms typically start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pains, and headaches. Typically, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea follow, along with decreased functioning of the liver and kidneys. At this point, some people begin to have bleeding problems. The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people as well. In order to make the diagnosis, typically other diseases with similar symptoms such as malaria, cholera and other viral hemorrhagic fevers are first excluded. To confirm the diagnosis blood samples are tested for viral antibodies, viral RNA, or the virus itself. Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from infected monkeys and pigs to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution. There is no specific treatment for the disease; efforts to help persons who are infected include giving either oral rehydration therapy (slightly sweet and salty water to drink) or quote marks 2bintravenous fluids. The disease has high mortality rate: often killing between 50% and 90% of those infected with the virus. EVD was first identified in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The disease typically occurs in outbreaks in tropical regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

9 August: The ceasefire is over in Gaza and they’re at it again; not full-on like before but just so that neither side gives the impression of defeat. Israel has pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip but it is still bombing targets. Immediately the agreed ceasefire time was over Hamas started sending up rockets again just to show that they are not whipped bitches, even though the trash they’ve got do not get into Israeli areas because of the Iron Dome defence system (and even if they did they wouldn’t do shit anyway, beyond denting a car or roughing up someone’s lawn); these shit-ass efforts are just a symbolic show of defiance. What is not symbolic, however, is Israel’s response which are powerful response attacks — they hit any area rockets are believed to have come up out of — so the death toll on the Palestinian side is ticking up again, on or near 2,000 now. (It is really shit of Hamas — let me say — to be the cause of bringing down even more death and horror on their poor, poor people of the Gaza Strip like this, for merely symbolic display, especially when so many of their own leadership [and the families thereof] are in safety, hiding in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere. For this renewal of hostilities I do blame Hamas — they could have let the people recover some little bit anyway — find some pots and pans and some clean water and some fuel. More of this must be totally intolerable.) Update (11 August): yet another ceasefire has been agreed and this one seems to be holding.

Frank Maloney10 August: Former boxing promoter Frank Maloney is undergoing a sex change, it is reported in today’s Sunday Mirror. The 61-year-old, who guided Lennox Lewis to the world heavyweight title, has told how she now lives as a woman called ‘Kellie’. She told the Sunday Mirror: “I wasn’t born into the right body, I have always known I was a woman. I can’t keep living in the shadows.” The newspaper told in a six-page story how Kellie’s unhappiness over her secret wish to be a woman ended her marriage, and she has no intention of looking for a relationship in her new life. “At this very moment I am preparing to live the rest of my life as a single person,” she says. She says the boxing community can think whatever it wants about her now. Maloney announced his intention to call time on his colourful 30-year career last October.

Robin Williams, 1951-2014

Robin Williams, 1951-2014

11 August: Death announced today of actor and comedian Robin Williams (b. 1951), who’s been found dead at his home near San Francisco. Suicide it looks like; not too many details as yet but the immediate cause of death is said to be ‘asphyxiation’ according to a statement by local police. Williams has battled with drug and alcohol addictions over the years, as is fairly well known (and as is fairly obvious in his work), but was clean and dry for 20 years, apparently; unfortunately [as with Philip Seymour Hoffmann at the beginning of February this year] he got himself bumped off the wagon recently, it seems, and found himself alone in the wilderness again headed nowhere for no good reason. It is reported (“sources close to the family”) that in recent weeks he has been suffering from a severe episode of depression. Williams won an Oscar for his performance in Good Will Hunting (1997) and will be also fondly remembered for his performances in Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Fisher King (1990), etc; however, of course, it will be his comic performances for which he will be especially remembered, Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), television’s Mork & Mindy (1978-82), and the manic one-man shows, Robin Williams: At the Met (1986) etc. (His most recent stage show — in 2008 and 2009 — was titled Weapons of Self-Destruction.) On the Bush family, his was the wonderful line, “What can you say about a family in which the smart one is called Jeb?” (referring to Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, brother of the rather stupid George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, who is best served, as he says himself, by “keeping expectations low”).

Lauren Bacall 1924-201412 August: Death announced today of Lauren Bacall (b. 1924), Hollywood actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood; wife of Humphrey Bogart (m. 1945-57) and Jason Robards (m. 1961-9); films include The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and so on. She also enjoyed success in theatre shows (in New York City mainly) and, somewhat unusually for a big-name movie star, she actually wrote her own biography (ie, no ghost-writer), Bacall by Myself (1978). (Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske, by the by — in New York City — a child of European Jews, her father from Poland and her mother from Romania.)

English cricket captain Alistair Cook

English cricket captain Alistair Cook

14-17 August: England defeat India at the Oval to win the main Test series of the summer (winning the series 3-1). They won it quite comfortably in the end; however, after they lost the first match in the series at Lords (which brought to 10 the number of winless test matches for England, who, this time last year, were ranked number one in the world rankings, including a humiliating 5-0 whitewashing in the Ashes series in Australia in the winter) Alistair Cook’s position as captain looked very shaky (almost everyone was calling on him to step down). There were even questions about whether he could continue as an opening batsman so poor was his form (whether he could hold his place anywhere in the side — even further down the batting order could he get runs?). But he led the way to a victory at Southampton (where a catch that would have sent him back to the dressing room on 17 was dropped and, afterwards, he went on to make 79) and they’ve never looked back since. Mind you, India have been poor, especially at the Oval where they’ve been beaten in two and a half days.

Policing in Ferguson, St Louis, Missouri, August 2014

Policing in Ferguson, St Louis, Missouri, August 2014

15-17 August: Serious civil unrest in the Ferguson area of St Louis, Missouri, following the shooting dead of an unarmed black kid by a policeman. It is clear beyond question that the kid, Michael Brown, had his hands in the air in the universal gesture of surrender and still the cop shot him dead. Witnesses say that for all intents and purposes he was executed. That’s bad enough but what has really poured fuel on the situation is that the cops and authorities in Missouri have been conducting a media campaign to assassinate Michael Brown’s character after the fact to justify his killing: apparently Brown had been involved in a ‘strong-arm robbery’ just before he was killed (he stole $50 worth of cigars from a local Quick Pick convenience store); however it appears the cop who shot him didn’t know about this, for him (the cop) it was simply business as usual. Ferguson is a mainly black part of town but, only 3 of the 50 or so local cops are black so that the police go into Ferguson like troops go into enemy territory. Police reaction to the protesters protesting the killing of Michael Brown has highlighted two things about policing in the USA: first, the extent to which police forces have become militarized (with cheap military surplus gear from the Pentagon, including drones and tanks and hundreds of thousands of M16s and so forth), and, second, the number of black people that are shot by armed officials (one almost every other day it seems like). Serious rioting for three or four days now (a state of emergency has been declared in Ferguson and night-time curfew imposed). Police are managing things very badly (and the rage of the local community seems wholly justified). The Bill Maher video, below, was made a few weeks ago — back in June — but it shows concern already mounting about the loss of proper understanding of policing is supposed to be; as Maher says in his little monologue “Protect and Serve” applies to the people in the local community not to the police officers (who, indeed, — and not only in the United States — increasingly seem only to be concerned with self-preservation and remuneration and benefits; in sum self-service).

American cameraman James Foley about to be executed by an ISIS warrior. Note the orange outfit, undoubtedly a reference to the way detainees at the United States facility at Guantánamo Bay are kitted out

20 August: outrage in the west about the execution (by gruesome beheading with a medium sized butcher’s knife) of freelance journalist James Foley (a United States citizen, the horrifying killing done by someone who appears to be British, brought up in Britain at any rate, a British Muslim committed to the ISIS cause [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] — both men made ISIS-scripted speeches in a video of the event which has had massive circulation on almost all media). It’s hard not to be sorry for Foley, and especially for his family and friends, of course, but one cannot help reflecting on the fact that hundreds of people are dying gruesomely everyday all across the region — hundreds of thousands over the past 10 years (and millions besides exposed to unbearable horrors) — without so much as a ‘ho-hum’ in Middle England or Middle America, and all for the most unjustifiable cause, such that we are privileging the sorry death of this one white man disproportionately, grotesquely so. This now, of course, is going to bring the U.S. further back into the Middle East mess in a hands-on way (it is already bombing ISIS positions in the north of Iraq, in and around Mosul, and also west of Baghdad and — we learn this morning — U.S. special forces went into ISIS-held Syria and made an attempt to rescue Foley [but failed to find him (faulty info apparently)]; plus of course western powers are helping Kurdish forces in 18 different ways: arms, ammo, intelligence, jeeps, vans, lorries, food, money, communications, etc, etc — mission-creep all over again). From west Africa (Nigeria and Mali) to Pakistan and all the other stans (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan) in the east and from the underbelly of Russia in the north all the way to the equator (Kenya and Nigeria and the like) vast swathes of the world have been thrown into turmoil by Bush-Cheney and their Blairite cronies. And all for nothing; not for the people anyway — certain corporate interests, of course, have made billion-dollar bundles out of it all.

reynolds21 August: Death of former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds (b. 1932) announced this morning; Reynolds took over from Charlie Haughey in the early 1990s; he is credited (along with British prime minister John Major) with initiating the processes that led to the Good Friday Agreement (which brought an end to the worst of the Northern Ireland troubles) for which Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern got most of the laurels at the turn of the century (at least, Major and Reynolds were in office when all that stuff got going; however, in fairness, they needed to be open to it, otherwise it would never have taken hold). Before politics Reynolds made cash bundles as a showband and [Irish] country & western [music] impresario and as a manufacturer of dog food for British supermarket chains.

Richard Attenborough 1923-2014

Richard Attenborough 1923-2014

24 August: Death of British actor and film-maker Richard Attenborough (b. 1923); In Which We Serve (1942), Brighton Rock (1947), The Great Escape (1963), Oh! What a Lovely War (1967), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Gandhi (1982), Cry Freedom (1987), and Jurassic Park (1993).

25 August: French government has collapsed due to disagreements about austerity measures. The entire cabinet has been dismissed and President Hollande has asked Prime Minister Manuel Valls to put together another. Hollande is even more unpopular than President Sarkozy was, which is an amazing achievement (France is on its way down the toilet, it seems to me, still stuck in the 1970s).

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

26 August: The Ice Bucket Challenge has been one of the really big things this summer; the activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. (In the U.S., people participate for the ALS Association, while in the UK and Ireland it is for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.) The challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then afterwards challenging others to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated people have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation. It is unbelievable how viral this has gotten, everyone from Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Spielberg, and George R.R. Martin in the U.S. to just about every second person (it seems) in Skibbereen, Bantry, and the like. Seeing all these westerners waste good water and other precious resources in what has become nothing other than a narcissistic craze, Ayman Al-Alul, a Palestinian journalist workin in the Gaza Strip, where they have neither running water nor electricity to make ice with (see entries on Israeli action in Gaza in July and August, above), did a interesting take on the phenomenon — see below

27 August: Looks like Russian forces have finally crossed the border into eastern Ukraine — they’ve been there all the time (since all this started back in the spring) and everyone knew it, but they were pretending to be local Russian-speaking militia units for whom Mother Russia had serious concern — but now it’s on in earnest and Russian forces are on Ukrainian soil and they don’t give a fuck who knows it because (they clearly calculate) nobody is going to do dick about it. And they’re probably right. Europeans are bleating about more sanctions but now that we’re on the doorstep of winter I’ll bet this doesn’t amount to dick. And there’s nothing the Americans will do either (not much they can do except more economic sanctions but sanctions do not work unless lots of countries apply them; any action to stop the Russians is out of the question — Americans are still fire-fighting in the middle east and, at the same time, attempting to ‘pivot to Asia’). But the real kick in the crotch is that Russia launched this action just as President Putin met with President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk (in Belarus). The ultimate in cynicism and realpolitik (Putin is such a cartoon bad guy; he belongs in a Bond movie).

Putin and Prosshenko

President Putin meeting with President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk (in Belarus)

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey

28 August: Former Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been sworn in as Turkish president (Erdoğan has been prime minister of Turkey since 2002 and, after three terms he is now term-limited; so, ‘doing a Putin’, he has made himself president (he was elected by popular vote at the beginning of August) — even though in the Turkish system this is supposed to be a ceremonial office (similar to the presidency in Ireland, for example, or the monarch in Britain), nobody it seems will be in any doubt as to who really runs the country — Erdoğan is still head of the AK Party, presumably, and even if he’s not he will be unofficially). This never-ending Erdoğan regime is bad for Turkey in the long run — storing up a lot of resentments which will burst out one day.

SEPTEMBER

ISIS Steven Sotloff2 September: A second American beheaded by ISIS/ISIL, Steven Sotloff, another journalist (see also 20 August, above). Judging by the voice on the video it is the same British guy doing the beheading (or, at least, speaking on the videos). The hostages are being held by four British guys, apparently, whom the hostages have named ‘John’, ‘Paul’, ‘Ringo’, and ‘George’, after the Beatles. Some hostages have been released — upon payment of huge ransoms (French and Dutch and Italian and so on) — but the U.S. and the U.K. refuse to pay ransoms or to facilitate the payment of ransoms.

4 September: Death of comedian and TV chat-show-host Joan Rivers announced (b.1933). Known for her acerbic barbs (which were very often flat-out mean), she was nonetheless (in the 1960s and 70s) a pioneer for women in the entertainment industry.

Barack Obama5 September: President Obama visiting Stonehenge on his way back from a huge NATO summit in Newport, Wales, where the ISIS crisis and the situation in Ukraine and the meltdown in Libya were all on the agenda (fuck all seem to have come out of it except a whole lot of feeds for the media: President Obama with Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, who was a guest at the summit [Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance], President Obama with Turkey’s President Erdoğan, President Obama with Prime Minister David Cameron and so on; they bleated some more about tougher sanctions on Russia because of the land-grabbing of Ukrainian territory and agreed to set up a Rapid Reaction Force of 4,000 troops — one would have thought that NATO already had a Rapid Reaction unit!, otherwise, what have they been at for the last 67 years, especially since the 1990s?). The global situation is devolving fast (China must be sniggering into its sleeve at all the self-inflicted suffering we’re putting ourselves through); see below for two videos which give a fairly clear sense of where we’re at right now, September 2014, & how things feel at this moment which is [to quote a Bob Dylan line] “It ain’t dark yet, but it’s getting there”. These two vids are from the Friday night Young Turks show, 5 September, and run one after the other — TYT cut up their two-hour show into small segments for dispersal on various social media outlets (left to right: Ben Mankiewicz, Wes Clark [son of the NATO general], Cenk Uygur, and John Iadarola)

7 September: A classic All-Ireland Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary results in a draw 3-22 to 1-28 (31 points each). Match will be replayed on 27th of September (the week after the GAA football championship final).

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius

12 September: The South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of murder but guilty of culpable homicide (ie, manslaughter) for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp who — he says — he believed to be an intruder in the house (however Ms Steenkamp had locked herself in the bathroom, there was evidence they were having a screaming row, and he has a record of waving his gun around and even letting off a few rounds to show who’s boss). Pistorius had his two legs amputated below the knees but had curved blades attached to what’s left of his legs — hence “The Blade Runner” — and runs as well as any fully able-bodied athlete. He is from a rich and powerful family who have provided him with the best defence money can buy. He will be sentenced in October (he’s been allowed to continue out on bail for now); he could get up to 8 or 10 or 12 years. The trial has been televised and it’s been a popular reality TV show for most of the year. (In addition, the trial judge is a black woman — the highest ranking woman at that level — which has been another point of interest given South Africa’s racial history.)

"Ulster Says No!" Ian Paisley in his prime

“Ulster Says No!” Ian Paisley in his prime

12 September: Death of Rev. Ian Paisley has been announced today (b. 1926), former First Minister of Northern Ireland and founder and former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the more uncompromising unionist party which, since the 1970s, has totally outflanked the more moderate and mainstream Ulster Unionist Party (just as on the other side Sinn Fein have outflanked and surpassed the SDLP). For 40 years, for better or worse (mostly the latter), Paisley has been the iconic northern Irish Protestant, the voice and the face of one side of that troubled territory.

Dadid Haines13 September: Another beheading by ISIS (or ISIL or Islamic State — various names are used for the group), this time a Briton, David Baines, an aid worker who’d been working with displaced people in Syria — people displaced by the conflict in Syria at any rate. The U.S. has been bombing ISIS positions for a few weeks now but it has mostly been what one might call ad hoc strikes — fire fighting, as it were — however, earlier this week President Obama addressed the nation (and the world beyond) and said that the U.S. along with a bunch of other leading western countries, working in partnership with their allies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Egypt and so on), are going to engage fully with ISIS and attempt to take them out altogether (effectively declaring war on ISIS). Obama got elected saying that he would get the U.S. out of Iraq (which he did, finally, in 2012) and now he’s starting his own campaign there.

flag-3_3036497c14 September: Later this coming week (Thursday, the 18th) Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom (they plan to stay part of the European Union but no longer part of the United Kingdom). Six months ago it looked like the Nationalists’ would be defeated 65% to 35% but in recent weeks things have tightened up considerably — last weekend there were polls saying the Nationalists would win by one or two or three points. The Better Together campaign have managed things very badly, failing to make a positive case for the union, and their whole campaign has been about scaring people away from change (what about your pensions? what currency will you be using? what about the effect of all this change and uncertainty on the Scottish economy — some leading Scottish companies have said they would relocate to London if Scotland left the British union and so on)? Nevertheless, in the last analysis, I believe the Scots will vote no, probably 55% to 45% (maybe it will be closer, 52% to 48%; however, I do not believe that that will settle the matter — the Nationalists (who hold office in Edinburgh in the devolved government) are going to try again: one more heave, they’ll feel. And the Nationalists are going to get a whole lot of new powers after this referendum no matter how it goes because all the main parties now appear to be committed to what is called ‘Devo-Max’, ie, the maximum amount of devolution short of breaking the formal union (of course if they win they’ll be the government of an independent country). So either way the Nationalists are going to have command of most of the levers of power in Scotland and, believe me, they will use them to drive for full independence (this is going to be like a repeat of the Irish playbook where there is 95% independence, and then a final push — Ireland had ‘Free State’ status from 1922 until the constitutional reforms of the 1930 and 40s: Ireland became a fully independent Republic in 1948). And then the whole of the UK is going to have an ‘in-out’ referendum about the European Union in 2017 (the UK Independence and the Euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party have forced this) which could well result in the UK leaving the EU; but the Scots will certainly not be happy about that, the European Union is popular in Scotland (certainly far more so than it is in England). If Britain leaves the EU, Scotland will want to have another referendum (in the light of this development) and then they will very likely succeed (which is to say secede).

flag-2_3036470cIn the meantime, the British Flag Society (yes, there is such a group) has come up with some suggestions for another British flag in the event of the Scots leaving the union. The present British flag, the world-renowned ‘Union Jack’, is made up of three flags ‘superimposed’ on one another so to speak: the Scottish saltire (blue flag with the white X-shaped cross of St Andrew on it, the red cross of St George (on a white background), and the X-shaped red cross of St Patrick (on a white background). Wales is not represented in the Union Jack because at the time it was created, in the early 1700s, Wales had long been thoroughly subsumed into England. The designs proposed by the British Flag Society for Britain minus Scotland involve combining the flags of Ireland, England and Wales (Wales’ is a green and white flag with a red dragon on it). Of these, my choice would be the top one — very bold (and beautiful) — the one with the black in it (because, of course, Britain is no longer a white man’s land).

flag-less-scotland_3036469c

alex-salmond19 September: The ‘Yes’ campaign lost yesterday’s vote in Scotland; that is, a majority of the people in Scotland declined the invitation to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and set up an independent Scottish state: 55% to 45% (on an unprecedented 90% of the electorate turnout). The Nationalists are bitterly disappointed, of course, and today, surprising everyone Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party and First Minister in the devolved Scottish government [and consequently the face of the ‘Yes’ campaign] announced his resignation. No one was calling for him to stand down, on the contrary, so far as I can tell it is felt he did rather well (it was quite a close run thing towards the end). However, 10 points is still quite a way short and, after all, all the business of government in Scotland has been consumed by this referendum issue for a year and more, and, I suppose [and presumably AS supposed] this was the best time for him to step down. No point in waiting (clinging on to power) for two or three years until he was ignominiously pushed out by someone from the next generation. Right now he gets to walk off into the highland mist as something the Scottish love above all else: the glorious looser. (Former British prime minister Gordon Brown came out of all this well too; his interventions in recent weeks in support of the ‘No, Thanks’ campaign — some very strong and well-delivered speeches — were crucial in turning back the Nationalists’ rising tide. It reminded everyone how good, at his best, GB actually is/was.)

Ebola, Liberia24 September: The Ebola thing is going from bad to worse in half a dozen countries in west Africa (see also 8 August, above). The figures are totally unreliable but, for what there worth, it is said that over 3,000 people are now dead from the virus (with untold numbers suffering from it to varying degrees). It can be cured (or treated) because Americans and a British people suffering from it (volunteer health workers who’ve contracted it in the course of their work in Africa) have been brought home and they’ve been treated and recovered. One indication of how serious things are getting is that the government of Sierra Leone (where whole sections of the country are in quarantine) has just imposed a total curfew all across the country, everyone confined to their houses for four days; it’s an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and to deploy public informations campaigns and other measures (like soap to every house in the country along with, no doubt, getting a pair of eyeballs into every dwelling in the land so that authorities really have an idea of what is actually going on on the ground).

26 September: The House of Commons has been recalled to approve the British cabinet’s decision to join with the United States and others in their war on ISIS (it is expected they will get the approval as Ed Miliband has already indicated that the Labour Party will be on board for it — a bombing campaign mainly along with advisers and the like on the ground [but no, we are assured, combat troops; the Arabs have to do that for themselves]).

27 September: Kilkenny win All-Ireland Hur,ing Final replay against Tipperary (see 7 September, above) 2-17 to 2-14 (Brian Cody’s 10th All-Ireland championship — Cody the Kilkenny coach).

Crowds enjoying an open air musical concert at the Glebe in Baltimore this summer

Crowds enjoying an open air musical concert at the Glebe in Baltimore this summer

30 September: Must record that it has been perhaps the best summer ever in Ireland weather-wise (in my lifetime anyway; old people say that the summer of 1940 was as good as this too). It has been more or less dry since May (including May). May was not ‘fabulous’ but it was mainly dry (it was dry down here in the south west corner of Ireland anyway); June, July, and August were simply marvellous — September has been too (21 and 22 degrees) — not ‘hot’ like in a heatwave, just fine all the time — reliably fine in the way one rarely gets in Ireland. And yet there has not been a drought, nor trouble getting water to cattle nor hose-pipe bans, none such, because there’s been rain from time to time — a day here or a night of it there — and all the whole summer lovely breezes blowing, such that it’s been pleasant to work in it or get about to do stuff. Best summer ever in Ireland (with bumper harvests). It doesn’t happen often, so it’s record-worthy when it does.

OCTOBER

10 October: UKIP (the UK Independence Party, who want Britain to pull out of Europe and stop all the foreigners coming into the country and making it “unBritish” et cet — a sort of British version of the Tea Party in the United States) has just won it’s first seat in parliament (the House of Commons): Douglas Carswell winning in Clacton in Essex, and winning with a huge majority. Carswell was the MP there already, as a Conservative, but he switched parties to UKIP and offered himself to constituency again. And they returned him to parliament with an even bigger majority. There was another by-election yesterday, in the North (in Manchester), a safe Labour seat, and UKIP came second in that election (the Labour Party held onto the seat by just 600 votes — it won it in 2010 by 6,000 votes!). So, obviously, and not without some justice, UKIP are now saying that they are coming for both Labour and the Conservative (not just a right-wing fringe of the Conservative Party as heretofore talking heads have been saying), i.e., they can win seats anywhere in the country (no seat is safe). And it clearly looks like they can. The Liberals are in desperate trouble altogether (I would not be surprised if Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister in the present government, lost his seat in the general election in May 2015 — he will certainly need to stand down as Lib Dem leader because the party is going to get a dreadful kicking). Interesting times.

15 October: Republic of Ireland achieved an unlikely draw against world champions Germany in Germany last night (qualifiers for the European Championships in 2016): it was heading for a one-nil defeat when John O’Shea nicked an equalizer at the death. Ireland now joint top of the group with Poland. We play Scotland next (in November).

20 October: Ebola deaths now at about 4,500; experts say it could be several thousand a week before Christmas. Most countries are now in a panic about it, certainly in Africa (Morocco says it no longer wants to host the Africian Nations tournament which is due to take place in Morocco January 2015) but also in Europe and the U.S. (where flights from Africa are now being screened for persons with Ebola-like symptoms).

21 October: Oscar Pistorius has gotten off very lighty — 5 years!! On 12 September (see above) he was found not guilty of murder for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but guilty of culpable homicide (ie, manslaughter). Reports say he could be out of jail (for good behaviour) within a year (he would then serve the rest of his sentence on licence). That’s what I call getting away with it (there is no doubt that he shot her, and there is no doubt in my mind that his presentation of what happened that night is incredible). Goodness me, he should serve at least three or four years (the guy has got a thing about guns, that’s been proven, and his good boy act is a fake) — is the woman’s life of no account at all? The prosecution team are a appalled by the leniency of the sentence (as, no doubt, are the family and friends of Ms Steenkamp). This is shit justice.

NOVEMBER

acker_bilk-call_me_mister2 November: Death of English jazz clarinettist “Acker” Bilk (Bernard Stanley Bilk), aged 85 (b. 1929), best known (perhaps) for ‘Strangers on the Shore’, which (in my view) would definitely make it onto a short-list of tracks for a soundscape mix for a portrait of the second half of the 20th century (in this part of the world anyway). Of course, it may be that serious music-heads would dismiss his stuff as watered-down British ‘lounge jazz’ (they would probably say that Bilk was to jazz what James Last was to classical music). And, indeed, they may be correct about that (after all, his whole thing in the marketplace is/was the revival of traditional jazz, the kind of jazz white people find acceptable, i.e., [as they and Bilk would see it] not the insane experimental crap of the post-war era, Charlie Parker, Myles Davis &c); this YouTube video here pictures & packages the whole Acker Bilk vibe perfectly.

Kentucky Senate5 November: Democrats have got themselves killed in the U.S. mid-terms, losing almost every race they hoped to compete in: the Republicans needed to pick up 6 Senate seats to gain control of the Senate (the Republicans already securely control the House of Representatives and they control it even more comfortably now) and they have picked up at least 8 or 9 [senate seats] — as I write, the counts are not finalized and formalized as yet, but the picture seems very clear. As Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks said, the Democrats got invited to a Red Wedding (a Game of Thrones reference, referring to a famous slaughter scene at the end of Season 3). Democrat-supporters are well-known for not showing for mid-term elections (while Republican voters are much more motivated), moreover a lot of the elections yesterday were in tough districts for Democrats (it’ll be a much more favourable playing field for Democrats in the 2016 cycle), but, even so, this was a slaughter: all of the races that were supposed to be close (Alison Lundergan Grimes v. turtle-headed Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, for example) turned out to be easy wins for the Red team (McConnell won by 15 points!! [McConnell is the leader of the Republicans in the senate, which is the upper house in the most do-nothing Congress of all time]). President Obama was a massive drag for the Democrats (in one interview, for example, Grimes refused to acknowledge that she even voted for Obama (see clip below), which is incredible [moreover, she disowned him and she still lost by 15 points because, of course, Republicans then used it against her; she should have said “Yeah, I voted for him, of course I did”, it’s ridiculous to deny the leader of your party like that because you alienate your base while you gain nobody [which, appropriately enough, is exactly the route Obama himself has taken] — you surrender your credibility for nothing; it might be different if you win, but to surrender your credibility and lose is just horrible to witness]). Expect a determined effort to overturn ‘Obamacare’ [the Affordable Care Act] in the coming 24 months (critical elements of, it at least); Congress has already tried to do so about 40 times (the House of Reps especially) and that was when they had no chance of doing so; so now that they have control of all Congress (and with a vicious race for the Republican nomination for the presidential race in 2016 already under way) what in the world will they not try to do (Ted Cruz & Co. in particular)?

Ed_Miliband_1121455a8 – 12 November: Six months out from the general in the UK and Ed Miliband is coming under real pressure: he’s simply not connecting with the country at all (and this has been my own view of him from the off — I’ve never warmed to him). His personal likeability ratings are down in single digits (at 7 or 9)!! This is worse than Nick Clegg (the leader of the Liberal Democrats) is scoring! Before this, the worst ever for a leader of one of the major parties was William Hague when he was leader of the Tories at around the turn of the century (which was, of course, at the height of the Blair wave): Hague was at 13 or something like that. After that the worst was Ian Duncan Smith when he was Tory leader, scoring 15 or so. The Labour Party and the Tories are neck and neck in the polls at around 33% each, but, if they are to win next May, Labour ought to be doing much better; they need to be five, six, or seven points ahead, which the Tories would claw back in the campaign proper. Instead, the two parties are neck and neck and the economy is on the road to recovery (and has been for over a year now). Miliband is a drag on their prospects and nothing he does seems to work. He’s doomed. Of course the Tory press are stirring it (the story has been running for about 5 days now, a different spin and twist in it every day) but nevertheless it does seem that there is genuine disquiet in the ranks (the thing couldn’t run on spin alone). The leader of the Scottish Labour Party has just resigned (a couple of weeks ago) and she did so because she could not work with Miliband, and she let him have it full blast in a series of parting shots. Labour have about 40 Scottish seats and they cannot possibly get into UK government office without them; Joanne Lamont says that they are about to be overwhelmed by the Scottish Nationalists and she blames London and the London leadership for it (many Scots are regretting their referendum votes, apparently, and if the ballot was held again tomorrow Scotland would vote to leave the union). And, of course, Ed Balls is no help; clearly he and Miliband do not get along; and it is he [Balls] who is most likely to become the next Labour Party leader.

Mark-Reckless-01221 November: UKIP have won their second seat in the House of Commons, first it was Douglas Carswell in Clacton (in Essex) last month (see 10 October, above), and now (yesterday) it’s Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood (in Kent). Both men had been elected as Conservative Party (or Tory) members of the HoC but feel that David Cameron’s government is not hostile enough towards the EU (and, indeed, they suspect that he may be fundamentally friendly viz the EU, which is probably a correct assessment of Cameron’s disposition) and so have resigned their seats and stood again as UK Independence Party candidates; both winning handsomely (the Tories threw everything at Mark Reckless in particular, almost every cabinet member campaigning in the constituency during the by-election campaign) — UKIP is, of course, committed to pulling Britain out of the European Union (hence ‘Independence’ Party, because it sees the EU as a superstate). Immigration also a big issue, UKIP being much more hostile towards immigrants than any other mainstream political party and people vote for UKIP as a semi-respectable way of saying that there are “too many Darkies in the country” (if you’ll pardon the expression, which is intended as a paraphrase of how a UKIP supporter might speak/think). As I think I’ve written before, UKIP is really a British version of America’s Tea Party which is against the whole liberal-leftist drift of the western world over the part half century and more, too much welfare, too much tolerance for gays and cripples and non-white people, not allowed to beat our children any more and not enough clear discrimination between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. (And women, of course, need to be put back in their box!) Both (the Tea Party people in the U.S. and the UKIP people in the UK) want to move back towards a situation which is more like that which prevailed in the 1950s when everyone (according to them) was much happier and much better behaved and much better off. Much debate in the opinion pages about what all this means (i.e., the victories of Carswell and Reckless). Is this simply normal by-election protest stuff or, as UKIP claim, are they breaking the mould of traditional politics (the two main parties, Labour and Conservatives, are neck and neck on about 33% each in the opinion polls so that together they command a mere 66% in the country; 40 or 50 years ago that would have been more like 90% or more; and, everybody agrees, this decline in the unpopularity of the traditional menu is set to continue). There is no doubt that there are about 20 people (and maybe more) in the Conservative Party who would like to jump ship and take up with UKIP. And it is impossible to know what impact UKIP will have in the 2015 election. It seems fairly certain that they will pick up a bunch of seats (6 to 12, something like that) and become a small party in the Commons; but what is really unknown is what impact they will have in siphoning off votes from Tory candidates in constituencies where they do not get elected (UKIP are standing candidates everywhere there is a sitting Tory MP because, whatever their rhetoric, UKIP is really only concerned with Conservative Party, for now, forcing it to go right and forcing it into a conflict situation with Europe): will UKIP split the vote on the right and end up with the Labour Party candidate coming through the middle (“Go to bed with Nigel Farage and wake up with Ed Miliband”, as the Tory spin-meisters put it)? Meanwhile the Labour Party continue in pathetic disarray, see 8-12 November, above, so that if they do end up benefiting from this rupture on the right it will be despite their best efforts which are almost all of a self-destructive character.

Joan-Burton-Collage21 November: Meanwhile in Ireland the government have really backed down with regard to their plans for water charges: they created a private company (a semi-private company [I guess the plan was to float it on the stock market in a few years time once it was up and running and clearly profitable]), Irish Water, which was going to make a fortune selling us water; however, there was a massive reaction against it (the rates they were going to charge us for water were among the highest in Europe). Last week Joan Burton, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, got trapped in her ministerial car for two hours, surrounded by anti-water-charges protesters; everywhere ministers go they are protesters. There have been incidents up and down the country with people threatening the workers installing the water-meters in housing estates. And so the government have had to step in and take this issue by the shirt collar and deal with it, which they’ve done this week: they introduced warranted caps on what people will be charged (although these caps are only in place until 2017 or ’18 or something, i.e., the far side of the next general election which is in 2016): under the previous proposals, I (in a single household) would have to pay about €250 a year, at a minimum, under the new proposals I will pay at most €170 (and I will get a €100 rebate from the state on that, therefore, effectively €75 a year, if I understand things correctly, which is something I can live with). So my guess is the government have shot this fox (it took them long enough to do so; it was an awful mess from the outset with absolutely no support from any section of the community at all). The general election in Ireland will be fascinating to witness too (see 21 November, above, on the UK situation): the Labour Party are clearly going to be almost wiped out (just like the Liberals will be in Britain) but none of the main parties look like they will be able to form a government on their own; coalition governments no matter which way you turn. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we will see a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition in Ireland, which, if you know anything about Irish politics since independence, is just mind-warping. Fine Gael will lose about 20 seats at the next election (so they will go from holding 76 seats to about 56), that’s if all goes well for them! So FG will need about 20 seats from somewhere. Labour hold 37 seats at present; they will certainly lose 20 seats is my guess, maybe more. But if they return with anything near 20 seats — anything above 12 or 15 — an effort will be made to stitch together a coalition with a few of the independents (Shane Ross, people like that, probably supporting a minority administration). But if the Labour Party is way down at 12 seats or 10 or less they may be too toxic to deal with (and those left standing may not want anything more to do with coalitions); in which case FF would be FG’s best option — FF are on 21 seats right now and will probably double their take at the next election such that FG’s 50 to 60 seats plus FF’s 40 to 50 offers the best chance of stable government. These two parties must know that the state is close to existential crisis and they need to row together for a little while to get beyond this dangerous time and place (Sinn Fein are on the rise [they are on 22% in the polls at present, level with FG, FF are on 18%, Labour are down in single digits] and we’ve just come through a total bankruptcy and a heavily leveraged restructuring). Michael Martin (FF leader) is the most reasonable partner FG could wish for and it would suit Michael Martin too because FF would be back in power (and they would be almost equal partners in government) and Martin could claim to have rescued his party which, when he took over, was on the very verge of going out of business altogether. Interesting times.

Update, 23 November: the latest poll (in today Sunday Business Post) offers the following seat distribution based on their [Red C] polling (which makes for really horrible reading for the governing parties; if this, or anything like it, were to be the result at the 2016 general election it would make an FG-FF coalition a certainty*): Fianna Fail 31, Fine Gael 41, Sinn Fein 35, Labour Party 5, Green Party 1, Independents and Others 45 (*because FF would never work with SF, nor would FG — you’d probably need to know modern Irish history to recognise this — and attempting to make a coalition with independents is too unstable because, by definition, independents have no discipline [and because of that no staying power]; and, moreover, generally speaking, people hate the deal-making involved in such things, which is, more often than not, just shy of outright corruption).

Kenya bus attack23 November: Twenty-eight passengers were murdered when Somalia’s al-Shabab group attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn yesterday and picked out those who could not recite an Islamic creed who they assumed to be non-Muslims.

DECEMBER

9 December: The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report today which is powerful in its impact; most of the stuff in it is not news (everyone knew most of it already), but with this there is no longer any hearsay about it. A few Young Turks videos tells the (shameful) story:

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