Monthly Archives: February 2016

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.


“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

GM and the Zika Epidemic


Aedes aegypti (uma mosca com um proboscis)

Numerous British papers are reporting that the Zika epidemic in Brazil could be halted by the introduction of a genetically-modified strand of the carrier-mosquito Aedes aegypti, crediting the British company Oxitec with the break-through research.

Meanwhile, a maverick journalist called Claire Bernish has published a counter-story in “Activistpost” online relating that the GM mosquitoes have been disabled by tetracycline fed to larva in the incubation period in Brazil shortly before they were shot into the “ambiente” in April last year. According to her account, the cat-food used to rear the little bug(gers) was contaminated with the antibiotic in the chicken-factory where it was sourced. Surprise, surprise (mar dheat)! Result: a fortified Aedes aegypti which is now bigger and better at its malignant job.

Continue reading

Geoffrey Leech & the Semantics of H-Block

Geoffrey Leech 1

Geoffrey Leech – Semanticist

Anyone who read the invariably affable Geoffrey Leech’s “Semantics” (1974) will probably remember his questionable account of the use of the “N” word in America, when he offered the “C” word – no, not the one that rhymes with Typhoo – as an urbane explication of its literal sense (pp.44-45). As far as I can tell, the book was not reprinted after the second edition of 1983 but it is newly-available on a kindly Chinese website in pdf format [as below].

In the relevant pages he had this to say about my adopted province: “[I]n Northern Ireland, the term ‘Catholic’ is likely to have strong connotations (differing pointedly from one group to another) not generally felt by people living in England. For instance, it is possible that an Ulsterman would consider ‘a loyal and patriotic Catholic’ a contradiction in terms.” (p.43.)

Continue reading