Author Archives: Stanley George

Brexit and the European Union Forum

It is a new experience to be unfriended and at this date I have just been unfriended by the European Forum Group on Facebook where I listened much and posted often in recent weeks and months. (I leave it for those who know me to guess the proportion of each!) The risk in mailing to the Forum is being branded with xenophobia and my last flight of fancy has landed me in that camp – or so I surmise from the last transaction.

When asked by a contributor from far-flung Spain if I thought that his native country should send all the British there back home – some 200K by his account – my answer was an enthusiastic “Yes”! Having seen clips of the action in famed seaside resorts where English “yuff” desports itself in night-clubs and full-length films about the life-style of retired criminals from the Kray Brothers constituency of British society on the Costa de Crime – not to mention the Irish input – I cannot think the Spanish will miss them very much, unless they prove essential to the sustenance of the housing market. Continue reading

“Sem Juros”: The Brazilian Shopping-Mall

Everywhere in Brazil goods are sold on the basis of a 12-month ‘parcelado’ out of monthly income at source. The result is that every household has a jotter in which the running-cost per month of these deductions is recorded – just as the banks, a major player under the terms of “crédito consignado”, notify the citizenry of any current and future deductions arising from such purchases at the head of every bank statement – a scary block of liabilities which makes every retail addict shiver. (This ticker-tape of bad news is routinely delivered at the ATM.)

Now, if your car, computer, “cellular”, shoes, party dress, another party dress, beach-wear, hi-fi, wii-fi, frying-pan, ornate wall-clock, college books, living room furniture, bedroom furniture, bathroom fittings, bejeweSem_Juroslled havaianas, bedizened namorada and anything else which is not fixed to your skeleton by living tendons has been chalked up on the “sem juros”, then the chances are that a quaky economy is likely to bring those rental walls down around your ears some time in the future. And that is the great risk facing milliions in Brazil today. Exchange rates and inflation to one side, it is paying for all that personal clobber bought on credit in the form of zero-interest purchase – in which the bank’s profits have been ingeniously loaded onto the retail price at point of sale – that is going to hurt the newly-created consumer masses the most. (A massive 40% became new bank-card owners in the last 15 years by some accounts.)

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James Joyce and Irish Nationalism

Gently does it, now! Careful with those white corpuscles! The repossession of Joyce by Irish writing and Irish nationalism has been going on nicely for decades past. Probably wrapped up by now – though there has been a quietude over Easter. Perhaps the annual James Joyce Symposium will return different news. But, at any rate, it’s not all that simple. And now, in the age of Brexit when Irish people are cordially bemoaning the British flight from the European Union, their own historic flight from the other union might well invite interrogation. I personally regard it as a very mixed blessing in the century-long view. Joyce had a view too. He greatly resented the fact, for instance, that the new State adopted the Irish island on its stamp. He thought that, having broken the island in two – “split little pea” – it was deficient in authority to do so. Hard to quarrel with that. In fact, it took seventy years for the Irish Government to accept the point that its territorial claim was … impractical, at the least. So where did Joyce stand on Irish separatism? His journalism shows him partisan to a Sinn Fein nationalism minus the Gaelic-Catholic dimension (which, frankly, never could happen).GPO_Unionx500

Recently Colm Toibin has pointed out that the “Cyclops” episode ought be read as his response to 1916 – and this seems right. In earlier days, Emer Nolan laboured to show that the chapter isn’t the unambiguous satire of Michael Cusack and the GAA that American critics supposed. (Richard Ellmann & Co. were utterly dismissive of nationalist Ireland in a relatively unreflective way.) But to an unacknowledged extent Stephen Dedalus is much more of a cultural unionist that we often suppose – and so, of course, is Bloom. Item. Bloom has a Union Jack behind his parlour door. Item. In Stephen Hero, Stephen Dedalus (aka Joyce) prates about the difference between the language of the market-place and the language of the literary tradition. And when he colloquises with the Dean of Arts about the famous “tundish” scene in A Portrait, he notes the difference in the reception of English words in Ireland but does not bemoan “our own dear Irish” has Mrs Rooney does in Beckett’s facetious “All that Fall”. (“Baaa!”)

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France’s “Big Revolution” – 2016?

France-Revolution

France’s “Big Revolution” – June 2016

A lot about the current “Revolution” in France, “manifestations” in the best Left-wing tradition, and disarray at the petrol pumps, &c. I’m quite keen to hear views about the actual issues. Without sheltering behind faux-naivete, it does seem that Hollande’s reforms are what the economy needs to function – a sort of latter-day Thatcherism perhaps – while the strength and depth of French Labour movement constitutes a major political obstacle to any such reforms. Longer hours? Well, yes. Shorter contracts – yes to that, too. Limited periods of compensation for lost employment, well … 15 month does seem quite a long time to recuperate from the shock of losing a life-long job in a car-assembly plant.

Champs de Mars

The re-Massacre of the Champs de Mars? (July 1971)

Everything about the present events stands against the background of a Social Contract drawn up, not at the French Revolution, but under Le Plan Economique in the 1960s when France effectively re-tooled as an industrial society to amazing effect. (Mirage, Citroen, TGV and all that.) It might look as though this is the Monetarist Right against the Socialist Left but it is really a much more Centre-Right affair and much nearer to the feeling of the governing class in France than Le Pen.

It may be reprehensible that there is such a class but in France, if there is one thing you can say with some assurance it is that there IS a governing class in France just as there is an educational elite and an “agregation”. Previously I have blamed the doctrinaire persistence of French “revolutionary” ideas about citizenship for the mismanagement of the terrorist crisis and, more widely, the whole history of emigration. It is quite possible for the Left to err in this respect just as much as the Right and if they think they’re marching towards the Bastille they may find themselves arriving at a vacant lot behind the Champs de Mars. (Anyone for tennis?

The Language of Republicanism

Who can fail to be struck by the rudimentary form of communication espoused by the presumptive republican candidate in the current US presidential race? In the New York Times‘ report of his reaction to the London Mayoral election we read, ‘Trump said he was pleased to see Khan elected’ – with further quotations from the candidate along these lines: “I was happy to see that [Khan’s election] … I think it’s a very good thing, and I hope he does a very good job because frankly that would be very, very good. You lead by example, always lead by example. If he does a good job … that would be a terrific thing.”

Donald Trump - US Presidential Candidate

Donald Trump – US Presidential Candidate

Leaving aside the artless note of condescension and the fudged conception of ethnic, religious, and civic identities behind it, the inanity of that attempt to drum up support for the last whisps of the America Dream considered as a political ideology fit for plutocrats and wanna-be plutocrats seems to reveal Trump’s conception of political office as a form of self-endorsement for the second-generation migrant. From that standpoint, it seems then that Khan and Trump have something in common and it is only fresh migrants that Trump disparages.

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Dublin 1916: “Is this real? My ideal?”

1916 Re-play

“Drawn by the ideals of 1916, many women signed up to the republican cause. Photograph: Delia McDevitt” (Guardian, 25 March 2016)

For friends who have some insight into Irish history – hey are very many – the images circulating in today in 1916/100 are often to be taken with a mental salt-cellar from which large pinches can be regularly applied. This is a case in point. My source is a Guardian article on past disappointments and present challenges facing Irish feminism in the Republic for which the Irish Volunteers fought in 1916. It appears that their egalitarian expectations of the new state were disappointed by the actuality that emerged after 1922 and some, at least, might have been better off under British law, or else living in Britain where Olivia Leary’s aunt removed themselves – to be followed by here in latter years when she came to note as a brilliant anchorman and interviewer on British radio and TV after a stellar career in Dublin. (She was married to Paul Tansey who sadly died in 2008.)

The picture shows some lady-revolutionaries purportedly participating in the 1916 Rising and holding British Lee Enfield rifles of the .303 caliber variety which were standard in that period and much sported on the Western Front. It happens that the only arms of this description to reach the hands of the Irish Volunteers were those captured in actions such as that on Mount Street Bridge and sundry other places where they gained an advantage over the government forces, freshly disembarked from the Holyhead-Dunleary mail boat. On the photographic evidence, for a certainty, the guns disembarked at Howth were of Germany manufacture and dispatched to Ireland from a postal address in Hamburg.

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Israel and the Colonial Dilemma

Palestinian_refugees_1948x300

Palestinian Refugees, 1948

I was talking off-line – well, on FB messages – with a Jewish Irish-studies colleague and friend who fears that the identification of Zionism with Jewishness is becoming all too commonplace in talk about the Israel state today – not least on my Facebook page. I infer that he holds that state to be culpable of many excesses and that much of its purported “reaction to Hamas” is indefensible – if so, a credible position on his part, and I expect a personal burden too. One would wish it were not necessary to castigate the country with which one’s ethnicity and traditions are so often associated – though what the world knows as “Jewish” is often “British” or “American” and (albeit it in lesser numbers for horrific reasons) continental European as well. There is room here for the hyphenated forms “Jewish-American” and so on. All of this is a stimulus to further thought, and here it is for what it is worth.

Irish-studies folks are generally “on board” for a post-colonial interpretation of their subject area, Ireland – the country in which it is obviously grounded – but also any other country world-wide which has, or is currently, experiencing the woes of colonial invasion and imperialist subordination, or simply hegemonic repression in the sense of untrammeled cultural influence – all of which are variations on the theme of “colonialism” as this is understood in academic and wider walks of life today. In this view, the act of invasion and dispossession is a primordial crime which kick-starts major forms of social and political psychosis, if – more happily – with many interesting and appreciable cultural results. Well and good.

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Impeachment Night in Brasilia, 17 April 2016

The voting has reached 342 in the Congress, the necessary 2/3rds majority against Dilma Rousseff, and there’s a deep roaring noise in the Lower House (Camara) of the Federated Republic of Brazil. “Dilma Fora” has now become “Tchau Querida!” – the most prominent banners of the last day’s marches. (“Por Democracia, Contra Golpe” made a good show. too.) Vote by vote, every steaming delegate shouted out his or her reasons for a “Sim” or “Não”, professing to do so in the name of family, in the name of their constituency, in the name of the people, of shopkeepers, workers, hospital patients, and every other segment of the public they could think of. At one point is simply devolved into a competition as to who shout say “Sim” the loudest – though one elder simple said, “eu voto sim” in the shortest speech of all.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks to the media after a bilateral meeting with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Dilma in Santiago, Feb. 2016

I must admit that the expressions of disgust at the ‘parliamentary coup’ in progress on the part of some staunch PT-istas were among the most impressive mini-speeches in the five-hour odyssey but the avalanche of votes against the Partido dos Trabalhadores – often against a corrupt government rather than Dilma Rousseff in her own person, be it noted – sounded unmistakably like a majoritarian consensus. It seems to me that, for everyone there “on the night”, the dodgy Impeachment charges had morphed into a vote against a government which tirelessly supported a regime of inveterate corruption on the political plane, even when the perpetrators were as often among bought-on Congress supporters as from its own senior ranks (though not a few of these). In restaurants and shopping centres, during weeks past, all the talk was about the need for a moral reform in Brazil and and end to the “bad ethos” which seems to dominate every walk of life – even to the extent that, as someone told me today, doctors and dentists don’t consider it necessary to supply an invoice when they fill out a prescription or lavish their attentions on that migraine or that abcess which has been causing trouble all week. R$200 will see the job right. (Perhaps we aren’t so different.) Continue reading

Irish General Election: Setting the Scene

Voting for a new Irish government takes place on Friday. At this point, the Irish papers are predicting a hung Dail with the FG/Labour coalition failing to gain a majority while the British are likewise forecasting a chastisement by the people for their mealy-mouthed version of austerity. Looking back over the past few years no one can contest that Fine Gael came into government with the worst fiscal legacy since the formation of the State and that they have largely remedied the situation in the meantime. Ireland exited sanctions from the European banks a few months back and in 2018, on the present trajectory, it will exit debt – and all of this without a word spoken about exiting from the European Union. Considering that they exited from the British Union one hundred years ago with a good deal of cultural and political fuss, this piece of economic stability and fiscal engineering is no small achievement but it has come at a high cost – and the best that can be said about this government is that its housekeeping routines were as necessary as they were grimly unpopular.

Enda Kenny - seeking re-election

Enda Kenny – seeking re-election

First there are the public cuts themselves and then a succession of social and political ructions: the homeless crisis, the Water Fracas, the “political strokes” style of non-government agency appointments.  It seems at present that the debt of public gratitude to a clear-sighted government is distinctly lacking at the moment and all of this is working against the re-election of the FG-Labour Coalition. This is a kind of failure which casts the comparison with other Irish governments and parties in a special light. Much as FG likes to derogate the out-going Fianna Fail government as the villain of the piece and the author of the worst economic confusion in the history of the independent state, the irony is that Charlie Haughey could probably have executed the belt-tightening exercise with lordly panache while Sir Garret certainly would have put a better face on it than this lot. But face is not a word that one associates with Enda Kenny or Joan Burton in any agreeable sense. Continue reading

Camping in Buenos Aires

Lamps of Buenos Aires

Lamps in Plaza San Martin

Any nation that does not claim Utopia as a province does not deserve a country  – thus spake Oscar Wilde (or words to that effect). Well, Latin America is a lively example of that principle, if only for the historical reason that it began with colonial rapine and has feverishly nurtured the Utopia ideal amid endless disappointments since that time. It an odd way, it was always the Western counterpart of the Oriental dream: “For I on honey-dew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise …”. A brave new world – but for whom?

The scale and beauty of Buenos Aires – its monuments and gardens, streets and squares – is amazing. Ana and I touched every point within reach including the Evita Museum, which was well-worth visiting if only for the perverse education on Argentinian politics it affords. Happily, a superior course of instruction was available to me on the stone bench at the doorstep where I struck up a conversation with a returning Argentinian whose parents had fled Poland and Russian in the 1930s (you guessed it) and who shone a harsh light on Peronism and the ensuing military dicatorships from which he fled to Chicago in the 1960s.

Cortez

“Stout Cortez … silent on a peak in Darien” (Keats)

All the time I have been here I have been on the look out for personal ‘takes’ on the new Macri government – aside from the reports in La Nacion (more or less easy to read after an immersion in Portuguese). The consensus at street level is less ‘love him’ than ‘accept’ the necessity of a change of government after the Kirchners whose presidential hands were so deep in the coffers that the common wisdom goes, “Argentinians are always trying to fill the same political packages”.

That is a literal translation of a phrase which I take to mean that they are unable to change the mould of their political affiliations rather an allusion to the culture of brown envelopes – though this appears to have been very much part of the recipe also.It is no novelty to say that Latin America politics are driven by “transfers” of one kind or another and our visit to Buenos Aires coincides with the news from Brazil that Lula and Dilma’s publicity chief Joao Santana has been removed in handcuffs from an international flight on suspicion of parking $8.7 million from Petrobras in an offshore account. Some say that this is the break for Judge Moro that will “touch” Dilma and end the mandate by impeachment and they are already discussing the rules of succession – whether to go to the “urnas” [polling boxes] for a new President or to install a Congress appointment to finish out the four-year term. Continue reading