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Rule by poorly-educated is looming

July 12th, 2016 Comments off
The Donald at the US Centre for Public Interest

The Donald at the US Centre for Public Interest

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.

This is not to insult anybody. Whether or not a person has an advanced level of education depends on a number of factors, and these are often beyond the control of the individual. Poverty, location, family history, estrangement from a system perceived as irrelevant or inadequate – all these can prevent a prolonged period in formal education. And we all know that there are multiple intelligences, and many valuable forms of being smart cannot be taught at university.

However, education does aim to train the mind, and to increase awareness of the world around us. But analytical power and sophisticated world views appear to be lacking in both Trump-mania, and much of the reasoning, if it can be called that, behind the Leave vote.

Trump’s support lies extensively with blue-collar white males. They’re sick of being pushed around by fancy pants, such as that dreadful President, and former editor of the Harvard Law Review, or the hopeful to be next President, another damned lawyer, former Senator and Secretary of State. Ye gods, these people with knowledge and experience! Doncha hate ‘em.

This hatred of “experts” was also put forward, rather surprisingly, by former Justice and Education Minister Michael Gove, the man who pushed Boris Johnson overboard without realising that such perfidy might not make him the most popular guy around. As the wonderful Faisal Islam told Gove when the MP made his claim that people were sick of experts, “this is Oxbridge Trump!”

For indeed, Gove comes solidly from that “expert class” who appear to have spent their entire lives accumulating degrees, positions of power and influence, the right to tell other people what to do.

But the proletariat is not having it.

Beyond all this, though, is the worrying trend of rejection of learning. Trump and the Leave agitators have been saying, in effect, “you don’t want to listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Follow your gut!”

It’s the triumph of emotion over reason, something that has spread like wildfire through social media, the decline of responsible news dissemination and concentration on instant outrage and performing cats. Oh, and name calling … the law that someone will eventually call their opponent “Hitler” in any online argument now seems as quaint and genteel as drapes over table legs.

For centuries, education has been viewed, pretty well universally, I would think, as the way to improve life, improve one’s chances of material and mental riches, and understand our environment so we can improve it.

But now Trump loves the poorly-educated and Gove turns up his nose at “experts”.

It’s back to the caves, everyone, and burn the books before you go.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Irish poll gives grist for the mill of endless political speculation

February 29th, 2016 Comments off

Unfortunately for Ireland, it’s not all over bar the shouting.

The 2016 general election was held on Friday February 26, but when and how the new government will be formed is anybody’s guess, and the guessing is going to be prolonged and probably wrong.

That other cliché, about “the people have spoken, but we don’t know what they’ve said”, has been over-ventilated in the days since the election. However Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times had a crack at decoding, and his analysis is worth reading.

Ireland, as most readers would know, was hit savagely by the Great Financial Crisis. Over-reliance on property lending and purchase, particularly by small banks who should have known better, meant that the whole economy came crashing down in 2008. This, post the failure of Goldman Sachs, could be traced back to the spread of derivatives and mortgages for people who could never pay them back, as best described by US author Michael Lewis.

So in Ireland – famously described as “the Wild West of European finance” by The New York Times – imprudent and unregulated behaviour in the banking sector eventually led to the impoverishment of the nation.

However, not all pigs are created equal, and the wealthier pigs generally got off very well. But if you were an Irish person on a small fixed income, with a disabled child, trying to make a living in third-level education or the building industry, you were in trouble. Government cuts appeared to fall mostly on the poor, and the imposition of universal water charges caused a rage and refusal that became durable.

After the crash of 2008, unemployment soared to 15 per cent – and that was only what was admitted. Many people could no longer pay their mortgages, and, seven years later, the full fallout of this was only becoming apparent as more and more families sought emergency accommodation.

So what was happening in Kildare Street, home of the Irish Lower House, the Dail?

The government which presided over the property madness, the “Celtic Tiger” boom, was turfed out at the 2011 election by a furious electorate.

Five years later, however, the party which comprised that government, Fianna Fail, has come back from its decimation and now, two days after the election, holds 43 seats in the 158-seat lower chamber, the engine of government.

The previous incumbent, Fine Gael, holds slightly more seats. The two parties are old enemies dating back to Ireland’s civil war in the 1920s, and once it would have been unthinkable that they would join forces to govern.

But that was then: this is now, with an array of small parties and independents taking a third of the seats in the new Dail – a refreshingly democratic but unworkable mixture. The two big beasts will have to bury their tusks and talk about working together. This is what the pundits have been saying on talk shows in the lead-up to the election, and what the paper of God, The Irish Times, says, not too forcefully, in its editorial on the election result.

Much has been made, almost gleefully, of Ireland possibly joining Europe in a new way, by being one of the countries (see Spain, Belgium) which in recent times have struggled for months to form a workable government following elections.

From this observer’s point of view, the thirst for power, or office, is so strong in the professional politician that, most of them, would sell their mothers to get a toe in any administration.

And that is one of the reasons why the rise of the Independents, on one hand, is a very good thing: such people know they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being in government , or running a Ministry. But they still want to be there, representing their constituents and making short those who are in power do not ride roughshod over the rights of all.

If democracy is sought, the roots of the word have to be respected: demos, the people, and kratos, rule.

When the people speak, they don’t always do so in neat joined up sentences. That is something we all have to accept.

 


 

 

 

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He was our Hero, and not just for one day

January 11th, 2016 Comments off

(A version of this article appears on www.headstuff.org, the culture, comment and news website.)

TOO beautiful to live; to elegant to grow old – but David Bowie is dead.

The pop superstar/artist’s passing took millions by surprise on the morning of January 11. The news led bulletins around the world, including the serious BBC morning programme. When I caught the tail end of the headlines I thought I must have misheard – it must have been a reference to the musician’s birthday, 69 last Friday, or the release of his latest album, Black Star.

Bowie was one of the most famous people in the world – if you doubt it, check out the international coverage of his death from cancer, in the cliched phrase “after a long battle”. In Melbourne last August, I went to the big exhibition about Bowie which has been touring the world since its premiere at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013 – currently it’s at the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands.

Mentioning this visit to a relative later, she vaguely asked “What does David Bowie do?”

That response, apart from eliciting mirth and incredulity, poses a question that the same exhibition literature attempted to explain: “one of the most pioneering and influential entertainers of modern times,” it summed up, adding “Bowie’s work has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design, theatre and contemporary culture”.

But apart from all that, he was our Dave.

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Now we don’t even have Paris

November 19th, 2015 Comments off

It was the movie line that earned its place in cliché history – Ingrid Berman to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “We’ll always have Paris.

Often paraphrased down the years as “At least we had Paris”, or “But we’ll always have Paris”, it summed up nostalgia for a perfect time, an interlude of love and beauty.

Perhaps it was sometimes used ironically or mocked, but used it was, with all the attendant mental pictures of the Eiffel Tower, bridges over the Seine, candlelit dinners and accordion music in the streets.

Now we – in the West, or wherever people felt love or awe for the French capital – don’t even have that.

The summary random murders of 130 people (and don’t forget the dozens left with that chilling description, “life-changing injuries”) has cast a grim shadow over Paris, at least for current generations.

The brillian Robert Fisk, jorunalist and historian, is right to point out that the Friday 13 attacks were not the worst atrocity in modern times: 200 French Algerians were slaughered by Maurice Papon’s police in 1961. And mass media should also make sure that other Islamist terror attacks, such as the one which killed 43 people in Beirut only days before November 13, should be recalled. To give balance and begin to answer “why?”, the continual loss of life in public places such as markets in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Western invasion of 2003 were also individual human tragedies – in their thousands.

But for now, the notion of Paris as a beautiful, romantic, sensual monument to modern achievement, especially French, is in dreadful abeyance. Perhaps it’s another step in mankind’s journey, or a contemporary society’s journey, from hope and innocence to grim realisation; life is beautiful, but it is more often terrible, and there will always be zealots and criminals who seek to bring illusions of peace and tranquility to a bitter end.

Personally, I am not a Parisophile – give me Madrid or Barcelona. My most abiding, unfortunate memory of Paris is what we shall delicately term a hygiene lapse in the bathrooms of a busy, not cheap, restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Michel. And my husband, an architect, spent much of a weekend visit some years back muttering that our chic boutique hotel was a firetrap. Paris is expensive, not always so clean, and it’s hard to appreciate Haussmann’s masterful radius plan when queuing in the rain for the Louvre.

But there is nowhere like Paris, for the dreams, aspirations and ambitions of countless people all over the world, for centuries. The beauty of the language, both spoken and written, the fabulous quality of the food at all levels, the style of the people, the exquisite fashions, the grandeur of Les Invalides – they all remain. But the City of Light as we look to 2016 has a dark shadow over it, with an assault weapon in his bloody hand.

 

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