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Australia’s off-shoring of asylum seekers is just plain cruel

August 13th, 2016 Comments off

This is my article which appeared in The Irish Times, Saturday August 13, explaining the Nauru detention centre scandals to a non-Australian audience

The Black Armband has come back to haunt Australia. Twenty years after conservative prime minister John Howard brushed off national guilt about mistreatment of Indigenous people, revelations have emerged of cruel and unusual sufferings of asylum-seekers whom “the Lucky Country” had dumped offshore. The appalling conditions imposed on people – especially children – has angered and ashamed many Australians.

While western Europe this summer saw queues of refugees at the borders of the EU, and has become hardened to mass drownings after perilous sea journeys, Australia has long adopted a bi-partisan attitude of zero tolerance to its refugee problem.

(A person is not technically a refugee, under the UN Convention of 1951, until they have been recognised as such by a host country. So most of the fleeing people mentioned here are actually asylum-seekers.)

 The scandal of Nauru is not new, but the sheer enormity of the files released this week by The Guardian newspaper is horrifying. There are around 500 asylum-seekers in the detention centre on the island, about one-tenth of whom are children. People being abused, physically, sexually, emotionally, driven to attempt suicide, is described. And the key point: these 2,000 reports were not written by “bleeding heart” liberal luvvies from do-good organisations. They are written by actual staff at the detention centres , which were privatised in the 2000s.

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Life no longer so gay at Ireland’s seminary Maynooth

August 3rd, 2016 Comments off

DO you have that Trumped-out feeling? One can only be outraged, sickened, appalled, and yet entertained, for so long, right? And Trumpetisation has been ongoing for over a year. The topic of DJT has now been banned from my family dinner table. We are just putting our fingers in our ears, casting down our eyes, and hoping that we will wake up on November 9 and it will all have been a nasty dream, and a responsible human being is in the White House.

And just when there’s a need for something new to be exercised about, the Catholic Church obliges.

It’s the decision by Archbishop of Dublin and Good Egg, Diarmuid Martin, to stop sending his trainee priests to St Patrick’s College at Maynooth. Maynooth has for over 200 years been a “pontifical university” (offering courses in theology and related disciplines) and a training college for novice priests. The Archbishop referred to homosexual activity and “strange goings-on” – a rather twee and non-specific term, from such an intelligent man. The media, certain sections of it revelling in this story, have run reports that the gay dating app Grindr was being put through its paces at Maynooth.

Well: maybe you are shocked. But surely not at the idea of gay activity among priests? Perhaps the past two decades have blunted our sensibilities with regard to the sexual activity of the clergy. There have been so many shocking and disgraceful cases of sexual abuse, particularly of children in the care of the Church. But consenting sex among adult males? Is the Church still pretending that homosexuality doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist among its staff? Read more…

Trump, Romney, McCain and Bush speeches compared – with humility

July 28th, 2016 Comments off

Why would you vote for Donald Trump in the US presidential election? Maybe if you had not reached your fifth birthday, so were short on qualities such as self-restraint, logic, analytical thinking – and an acknowledgement that the truth is important.

Watching a TV series about four-year-olds, shortly after having seen the Donald accept the 2016 Republican nomination, the parallels were striking. Some of the four-year-olds displayed very similar characteristics to the potential next leader of the free world. They were inconsistent, loud, unsympathetic to others, selfish, mendacious, self-aggrandizing … and so on.

The rise of Trump does underscore what could be either a sea change in society, or, please gods, just a temporary fillip brought on by the stresses of modern life in the West. For his success – with a sizeable minority of Americans – runs counter to the traditional ideals which we have tried to instil into our children. Be polite does not equal “she had blood coming from her, whatever” (Megyn Kelly standing up to him); being honest does not equal saying one thing one month, the opposite the next, and ignoring the inconsistency; being transparent about one’s activities does not equal refusing to release tax records, unlike all other candidates; being upfront does not equal phoning the media and pretending to be somebody else called “John Barron”.

Mature adults know better than to rate people solely on their looks (Trump, in the sly way he has mastered, took a shot at Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi by posting an unflattering picture of her speaking beside a photo he presumably thinks is flattering of his wife Melania). Mature adults also accept that it is dangerous to incite a crowd to use physical violence against a member of that crowd. But Donald is not a mature adult. He is a rich, spoilt kid who has managed to get away with a string of business failures, and is mouthy enough to be a success in the crude world of the TV reality show. Read more…

Rule by poorly-educated is looming

July 12th, 2016 Comments off

Gove tells Islam that nobody wants to hear from experts

Gove tells Islam that nobody wants to hear from experts

God, or Allah, might still be in his heaven, but all is definitely not right with the world. Brexit! A woman prime minister takes over from the rarely flappable David Cameron in Britain; in Ireland, the leader who just hauled himself onto the beach of high office after months of negotiation to form a government is now under challenge; in the US, the prospect of President Trump cannot be discounted; and a highly-paid TV presenter, Chris Evans of Top Gear, falls on his sword because of low ratings.

What the hell is going on? As the aforementioned Trump would say, punctuating each word with a shake of his raised hand, index finger pointing up.

Well, I have a theory, and again it has been indicated by that Great Pointer, the Man with the Golden Hair, DJ Trump. Some months ago, during his unforeseen barn-storming of the Republican primary circuit, Trump declared at a rally that “I love the poorly-educated”. Rapturous cheers met this of course, even though it seems odd that people would cheer to hear themselves described as dim. But that seems to be part of the Trump shtick, and there’s a certain amount of evidence that poor education was also a predictor of voting for Leave in the British EU referendum. Read more…

Trump’s odd relationship to Vietnam – and American greatness

April 29th, 2016 Comments off

Presidential hopeful – or should that read shoo-in – Donald Trump has deigned to tell the world what his foreign policy would be in the Oval Office.

Unsuprisingly, this businessman-demagogue boils it down to “American greatness, American interests”. The supposedly “ethical” foreign policy that nominally belonged to the US in the 20th century would be ditched wholesale.

Trump’s campaigning slogan has been “Making America Great Again”, and he has finally managed to put that sentiment in an international context. An unwelcome echo is of Adolf Hitler’s project to revive German greatness after the humiliation of the First World War.

An interesting angle in this is Trump and the Vietnam War. Not that he served in it – come now! Serving is for losers, as The Donald almost said about war hero and decent human being John McCain. Young Trump was, sadly, unable to don [sorry] the uniform of a grunt because of bone spurs in his feet. He was 22 when his number came up, and had been a student athlete. But those darned bone spurs got him a deferment. What a shame.

(This, incidentally, is what bone spurs are.) The uncharitable might say the bones in his head are the real problem.

But seriously: the link between Donald Drumpf (Trump) and Vietnam is the deep, deep wound which that disastrous venture left in the American psyche. How could the mighty US lose a war to a small South East Asian country fighting jungle guerilla tactics on a shoestring? But it did, comprehensively, as Harriet Senie makes clear in her wonderful new book, Memorials to Shattered Myths (Oxford). Around 60,000 people died, and many others were left with life-changing conditions both physical and mental. “The war remains a haunting spectre in American history,” Senie writes, and, later comments that “the quagmire” of Vietnam, although the conflict ended more than 40 years ago, “continues to influence US presidents and key elements of their foreign policy to the present day”.

Trump, in his speech on April 27, declared, with his usual finger-wagging, that “America is going to be strong again. America is going to be reliable again.”

The Donald at the US Centre for Public Interest

The Donald at right-wing think-tank The National  Interest. Reuters

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