One of the features of the American political system, as opposed to a Parliamentary system, is that it allows someone to go straight in at the top, without having to serve any kind of apprenticeship in national politics (e.g. Eisenhower, Grant and others). All very nice and democratic etc etc. Except that there always does exist the danger that a total dunderheaded moron, backed by a sufficiently clever spin team, may get elected. Specifically, of course, I speak of Sarah Palin. Here she is being interviewed a few days ago by Glenn Beck. Now, one would expect Beck, who is slightly to the Right of Josef Goebbels, to lob very easy, soft balls for her to slam out of the court, but even he loses patience with her “bullcrap” when, after being asked who her favourite founding father was, she is unable to name a single one.
Rather like the “What newspapers and magazines do you read?” question that exposed her stupidity during the presidential campaign in 2008, this one completely stumps her, and she resorts to the same answer: “All of them.” Meaning, of course, that when pressed she can’t name a single newspaper, and she can’t name a single founding father. After blethering on about how wonderful they all were for being so diverse, and bringing such diverse-pause-ity to the table, she does remember Washington (well, she does have a city, a state and the dollar bill to jog her memory) and enthusiastically praises him, hoping to compensate for having shown her total ignorance, while Beck, remembering his role, lets her get away with it. After we have all laughed, and it certainly is risible, we should then shudder, as we remember that apparently 24% of the population think that golly gee, this woman would be just swell as president! Who needs intelligence anyway?
By the way, Sarah sweetie, the founding fathers may have been many things but they weren’t diverse. They were all white Anglo-Saxon males. They were all members of the bourgeoisie (though they would not have understood the term) and most of them were either lawyers or merchants. And, significantly, most of them were freemasons. No diversity there, lady. .
This has been around for a bit, but here it is for the benefit of those who haven’t seen it before.
I’ve been an admirer of a lot of Christopher Hitchens’s writing, and I agree with many, though certainly not all, of his opinions. He is a highly entertaining and enlightening humanist and anti-theist writer and debater, among other things. He admits to having been a Trotskyist in his youth, though like many of the radical left has mellowed somewhat with age. To the surprise of many, he is an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq. That does not mean that he sacrifices his other values. He was critical of the practice of torture by waterboarding, and he arranged to be waterboarded himself, to see what it was like. Ths shows what happened, and he gives his own conclusions afterwards. .
. He has challenged other political commentators, notably Sean Hannity, to try it themselves, but as far as I know, no one has dared. .
. When I was nineteen or twenty, I worked in the X-ray department of a general hospital in Ladbroke Grove, London. One of the radiographers there (the people who actually take the see-thru photos, as opposed to the doctors who interpret them, who are called radiologists) was a very nice lady from Ireland, who would have been about forty then. She told me a very interesting story. She came from a small village in the west of the country, and all her young life, while she was at school, she longed to join a convent. All she ever wanted was to be a nun. So after she left school she packed a bag, kissed her family goodbye and went to a local convent to join, as a novice, or whatever girls are called before they become novices – before they take their final oaths.
But she left after a short while. She told me she enjoyed the devotional side but what she could not tolerate was that every evening, some nuns would come to the girls’ dormitory and get into bed with them and make use of them. And apparently, abuse was always followed by a prayer and a threat not to tell anyone. Mary (let’s call her that) stuck it for about 2 weeks and then walked out. However, accusing nuns of any wrongdoing was unthinkable and such was the stigma of failing to stay the course, that Mary couldn’t stay in her village. She had to go somewhere. So less than 24 hours after leaving the convent she was aboard a ferry to England, to stay with relatives. It all worked out for her in the end, and she ended up with a home and career in London.
Even at the very worldly wise age of nineteen, I wasn’t at all surprised by Mary’s story because on family holidays in Ireland when I was younger I had seen the way the clergy ran the place rather like the mafia. They controlled everyone’s lives – maybe not in Dublin, but certainly in the countryside, in the Rural Ireland that Eamonn Devalera was so keen to create. A priest or nun only had to walk into a shop or restaurant and the staff would all drop what they were doing and hurry over to fawn over them, while the grinning objects of their grovelling helped themselves to whatever they wanted, very often without having to pay. I saw it several times and even as a child I knew enough to be outraged. No one dared resist – one word of condemnation from the pulpit and a person could become an outcast in their own community. It was not until the 1990s that Ireland suddenly began to snap out of it and throw off the suffocating influence of the church.
So, I was not at all surprised at this news feature from the BBC, and this one too. A report has been released by the Child Abuse Commission in Ireland that has taken nine years to compile, and has revealed 2000 victims of sexual and violent abuse by priests, monks and nuns in that country over the last few decades. Reading other reports on this I see that they can identify over 500 culprits – so the excuse that it’s just a few bad apples won’t apply. We are talking about a significant minority of the Irish clergy -- and those are only the ones who have been found out. The experiences related here give just a taste of what boys and girls had to go through.
Sadly, even though this report has been released, and the state has paid compensation to many hundreds of victims, there does not appear to be any plan to search out and prosecute any of these priests and nuns. Of course, a great many of them must be dead by now, but there must be hundreds still alive. The church used to protect them by shielding them, and moving them from one parish to another if there was any hint of scandal – sound familiar? Some of those people need to do prison time, age and ordination not withstanding, but I am not optimistic. The church has had centuries of practice of looking after its own perverts.
Meantime, it is worth remembering that apart from convicted sex offenders and pimps, one of the highest risk groups for child sex abuse is the clergy. Never leave your child alone with one of them. .
Imagine a house with fifty front doors. People come and go freely through forty-nine of them, carrying goods to and fro, and visiting the house for fun. Someone, though, has barricaded shut the fiftieth door, and is standing in front of it, scowling, arms folded, saying to himself “That’ll show ‘em!” That is the equivalent of the US blockade on Cuba. A futile and useless gesture, undertaken to win votes at home from Cuban refugees rather than to have any effect on the island itself. Only in the US are Cuban cigars, and other goods, illegal – thought it seems that they are easy enough to find if you know where to look. And Americans are denied the chance to visit the place, while there is a thriving tourist industry, with scheduled flights to Havana leaving every day from airports in South America, Mexico, Canada, and Europe. So a cheer for President Obama for finally making a move to end this ridiculous situation.
And another cheer for finally admitting that carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, present a danger to life on our planet. Gosh, who’d a-thought it? I’m glad this now seems to be US policy, but it is a bit like Washington announcing that they have reached the conclusion that wheels should be round while the rest of the world has been happily trundling the things about for years. Still, we no longer have a president who is a front man for the corporate sector and whose environmental policies were a love note to the polluters. It’s all progress, it’s all good.
But a big boo – or even a what-the-fuck? – to President Obama for declaring that CIA torturers will be immune from prosecution. What sort of example does that set? Apparently it is because they were simply doing what they were ordered to do. Very glib. But that issue has been settled, or at least we thought it had. It was determined in 1946 at Nuremberg, that obeying orders was not a defence. It saved no one from punishment. The Nuremberg principles were laid down to govern the conduct of future warfare, and it was declared that an illegal order must not be obeyed. Men who had obeyed orders to torture and murder were imprisoned, or hanged. So it is disappointing, to say the least, that the CIA operatives who went round doing what the Gestapo had done – torturing people – will not suffer the consequences of their actions. “What did you do in the Iraq war, Daddy?”
It was also declared at Nuremberg that the planning and initiating of an aggressive war was itself a crime. Several men were hanged for it. Now, I am against anyone being hanged for anything, but the fact that it is deemed an offence under international law does raise interesting questions about the culpability of Bush, Blair, Cheney and the rest. ,
Before we are swept away by residual euphoria, and before we get impatient if change seems to take longer than would like, here is a reminder of what has gone before. It’s called 8 Years in 8 Minutes, but in fact it is almost nine and a half minutes long. If you have nine and a half minutes to spare, do watch. It’s hard to believe these things happened in the US − no, actually it’s very easy to believe, unfortunately. Let’s hope the last two presidential terms were just an aberration, never to be repeated.
Well, what did you think of it? I must say, that with all the hoop-la following Barak Obama’s election victory last November, and the feeling in some quarters that he can pretty much walk on water and solve the nation’s (no, make that the world’s) problems at a stroke, that during his Inauguration he would have to have, in the style of Ancient Rome, someone standing close behind him whispering “Remember, you are only mortal. All this shall pass.” However, for all the hyperbole, yesterday’s ceremony was fitting, restrained, and undeniably mortal.
We went to an Inauguration party at a local restaurant. There must have been about 200 of us, and the atmosphere was euphoric, optimistic and just plain fun. It felt strange at first to be applauding a TV screen, but after a couple of times, it was just the natural thing to do. Just as natural as when Bush appeared, to join in singing "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye!"
So, we got a fairly brief ceremony, complete with singer, chamber orchestra, poet and two priests. The actual moment of the two handovers was relatively brief. For a couple of minutes, Bush was still president and his Vice-President was Joe Biden. (Here’s a question for all you Americans from a puzzled Brit: The presidential oath of office is very brief, so why is the vice-president’s oath such a long, rambling declaration about mental reservation etc? Can anybody tell me?). The Chief Justice flubbed the presidential oath, probably because he tried to do it without notes, but with a couple of smiles he and Obama got there in the end. (I prophesied that before the day was out, conspiracy theorists would claim that Obama deliberately stumbled over the oath because he didn’t really mean it, or because he really wanted to take it on the Koran, or some such drivel. And I was right).
Obama’s speech was well crafted, to the point, and full of indicators of the future. Not Churchillian, not even FDR, but uplifting and optimistic. Science no longer to be marginalized, care for the poor at home and abroad, recognition that the people who actually make things are to be admired and that the idle rich, who contribute nothing, are not. Help to poor countries, a real partnership with the other prosperous countries in this world. A search for alternative sources of energy rather than for more oil. Here is a president who intends to bring America into the twenty-first century, and not a moment too soon. And how nice to have a president who is at ease with oratory – not one who ends up sparring with, and invariably losing to, the English language!
It was unfortunate for the poet that she had to follow Obama’s speech. I found her irrelevant and dull, and judging by the swell of conversation in the restaurant, so did most people. While she was reciting, people took the opportunity to order more coffee or ask for the check or simply to chat to their neighbours. We all shut up, though, for the final benediction when the second priest (In a nation where supposedly the church and state are separated, God certainly manages to stick his oar in on these occasions!) shuffled up to the microphone and, wheezing and slightly breathless, gave a solemn but witty and merry benediction – a fitting end to this happy occasion.
Now I know that this man is not the cure for all ills. There are forces ranged both within and without this country, dedicated to thwarting his plans. The moneyed and powerful do not easily surrender their influence and their ownership, imagined or otherwise, of the nation. So if President Obama does not manage to achieve all his ends, we must not be too surprised. But those of us filled with optimism yesterday must be ready to support him once the honeymoon is over, the novelty of a black president has worn off, and we have begun to forget what is what like under the old regime. Obama has ahead of him not just a few strokes of a magic wand but years and years of very hard work. But as one British poster wrote on a BBC vox pop site about the Inauguration: "Welcome back, America! We've really missed you."
** A slight quibble. In his speech, Obama remarked that he was the forty-fourth person to take the presidential oath of office. In fact, he is the forty-third. The 22nd and 24th presidents were the same person, Grover Cleveland, who so far was the only one to serve two non-consecutive terms
I watched this clip on the BBC a short while ago. It seems that Obama is starting as he means to go on. I expect this brought howls of anguish from lobbyists, whose job is to bribe influence politicians. It’s good, too, that he is restricting government workers from jumping ship and becoming lobbyists themselves, using their contacts and knowledge to advance the cause of whatever business interest they work for. Most interesting, I thought, was at about 6 minutes 21 seconds, when he says that the Freedom of Information Act will be even more strongly applied so that if he “or a former president” wishes to withhold something from the American people, they will have to show very definite cause to those charged with applying the Act. A former president. Whom does you imagine he had in mind? .
In fact, it’s worse than bad; it’s bloody disgusting. It’s just wrong, on so many levels. First, let’s look at the citation. Exodus 20:3 in the book of myths and hearsay enjoins you to have only one god. Well, news for you, whoever put the sign up – the desert god, the god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is the same god. The three monotheistic faiths are simply different factions. If, and I say if, America ever has a Moslem president, he or she will still worship the same god as Christians and Jews. Exodus 20:3 will not be broken.
Then the claim that Barak Obama is a Moslem. Yes, a lot of idiots were screaming about that before the election. The same idiots used to foam at the mouth about the radical pastor at the church that Obama attended for years. Yes, church. Somehow, he attended church and yet he is a Moslem. How do you work that out? Was he an undercover Iman perhaps?
But what is worst of all is that some pig-ignorant pastor or priest, a man whose job is to lie for a living, especially to children, has taken the time and trouble to spread this garbage As we know, there are certain rather dim people who think “If the pastor says it, it must be true.” and will believe anything these charlatans say, without bothering to examine it. Thus this sort of poison spreads. I am in favour of free speech so I agree with the man’s right to say this, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to believe it. Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not everyone is entitled to have his opinion taken seriously. I would like to think that a lot of people in whichever town that sign has been erected will show their contempt by staying away from that church. Sadly, I am sure a lot of people won’t. .