Tuesday, December 13, 2005

239: Denigration of the State: Orhan Pamuk

The novelist Orhan Pamuk is currently being prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for daring to raise the question of the historical persecution of Armenians and Kurds. In this recently translated article he expresses his uneasiness with the virulent nationalism of his detractors and the imperfect understanding of his overseas supporters

Orhan Pamuk

My detractors were not motivated just by personal animosity, nor were they expressing hostility to me alone; I already knew that my case was a matter worthy of discussion in both Turkey and the outside world. This was partly because I believed that what stained a country’s “honor” was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all. But it was also because I believed that in today’s Turkey the prohibition against discussing the Ottoman Armenians was a prohibition against freedom of expression, and that the two matters were inextricably linked. Comforted as I was by the interest in my predicament and by the generous gestures of support, there were also times when I felt uneasy about finding myself caught between my country and the rest of the world.

The hardest thing was to explain why a country officially committed to entry in the European Union would wish to imprison an author whose books were well known in Europe, and why it felt compelled to play out this drama (as Conrad might have said) “under Western eyes.” This paradox cannot be explained away as simple ignorance, jealousy, or intolerance, and it is not the only paradox. What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats? What is the logic behind a state that complains that its enemies spread false reports about the Ottoman legacy all over the globe while it prosecutes and imprisons one writer after another, thus propagating the image of the Terrible Turk worldwide? When I think of the professor whom the state asked to give his ideas on Turkey’s minorities, and who, having produced a report that failed to please, was prosecuted, or the news that between the time I began this essay and embarked on the sentence you are now reading five more writers and journalists were charged under Article 301, I imagine that Flaubert and Nerval, the two godfathers of Orientalism, would call these incidents bizarreries, and rightly so.

That said, the drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.

V. S. Naipaul was one of the first writers to describe the private lives of the ruthless, murderous non-Western ruling élites of the post-colonial era. Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country’s armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo. The intolerance shown by the Russian state toward the Chechens and other minorities and civil-rights groups, the attacks on freedom of expression by Hindu nationalists in India, and China’s discreet ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs—all are nourished by the same contradictions.

As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression. But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.

(Translated, from the Turkish, by Maureen Freely.)

-- the article can be read in full at 'The New Yorker'

Saturday, December 10, 2005

238. Art, Truth and Politics

Having just been awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, the ailing British playwright Harold Pinter unleashed a devastating attack on US foreign policy in a video-taped speech of acceptance. Lengthy extracts from the speech follow below. To access the complete text click here.

In 1958 I wrote the following:

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

(He explains how he writes his plays and gives several examples)

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in forty-five minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11, 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as "low intensity conflict." Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued--or beaten to death, the same thing--and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

(He goes on to discuss the situation in Nicaragua during the 1980s in some detail, including a meeting at the US Embassy in London at which he was present).

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American Presidents on television say the words, "the American people," as in the sentence, "I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their President in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people."

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words "the American people" provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guántanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the "international community." This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be "the leader of the free world."

Do we think about the inhabitants of Guántanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally--a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: To criticize our conduct in Guantánamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading--as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves--as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it "bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East."

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. "We don't do body counts," said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. "A grateful child," said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another 4-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. '"When do I get my arms back?" he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

(He quotes a poem of Pablo Neruda as a "Powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians").

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as "full spectrum dominance." That is not my term, it is theirs. "Full spectrum dominance" means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with fifteen minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity--the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons--is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force-- yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

"God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it."

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection--unless you lie--in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

(He quotes a poem of his own called 'Death').

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror--for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us--the dignity of man.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

127. Pearl Harbour - 64 Years On

Battleship Row under attack Posted by Hello

This attack was the 9/11 of our grandparents' generation - it came as just as much a shock to an inward-looking America in 1941 as the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was to do sixty years later.

The main difference between the two events was that the attack on Pearl Harbour was an act of war by a hostile sovereign state, whereas the 9/11 attack was the brainchild of a shadowy group of international Islamist ideologues. Afghanistan and then Iraq took the brunt of America's outraged response to 9/11, although it would seem that the real perpetrators of the airliner assaults were citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Islamist Al Quaida group and one of the presumed planners of the attack, had taken refuge with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This helps to explain why America decided to attack that country, but it does not clarify why the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq before the campaign in Afghanistan was completed and before bin Laden was apprehended. He is still at large. He sends out provocative videos and audio tapes from time to time, and this enhances his stature as a rebel hero among young and gullible elements in the Arabic and wider Muslim world: in this way he is actually winning the propaganda war in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

USS Shaw explodes Posted by Hello

In December 1941, however, the enemy was clearly identified as the government of Japan and America declared war on that country without delay. Nazi Germany obliged President Roosevelt by declaring war on America (as did Mussolini's Italy) shortly afterward, thus solving Roosevelt's problem of how to involve his reluctant and previously isolationist countrymen in the war against the Axis Powers in Europe. In fact, most US resources were directed toward the war in Europe; until late 1944 the war against Japan was largely conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps.

Life Magazine - 15 Dec 1941 Posted by Hello

The attack on Pearl Harbour was a brilliant tactical success for the Japanese - even though they missed the aircraft carriers which happened to be out at sea - since it effectively knocked the US Navy out of the Pacific for a period of about six months. Having secured nearly total surprise,their losses in planes and pilots were negligible. At the same time, and rather typical of Japanese military thinking, the detailed tactical planning was faultless but the overall strategic concept was based on false assumptions about America, a terrible blunder, in fact, which was to lead to the near-destruction of the Japanese home islands and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japanese Combined Fleet Staff (Admiral Yamamoto is 2nd from left) Posted by Hello

Why did they do it? What did they hope to accomplish by rousing the sleeping giant of the United States?

The view from Japan

Every country has a tendency to view the rest of the world through the prism of its own self-image (tainted history) and self-interest. Japan in the 1930s was a particularly self-absorbed and intensely patriotic society bent on extending its reach overseas to create a Greater Japanese Empire following the model of the 19th century European powers, but this at a time when the idea of empire had lost any former support in the home countries and had passed into rapid decline, particularly in the aftermath of the First World War. Japan had come late to the game of industrial power and military might, but it was eager to catch up with a world which had moved on in the meantime.

Since the 1870s Japan had transformed itself from an exotic feudal backwater to become the leading military and industrial power in Asia. It had waged successful wars against China and Russia and had annexed, along the way, both Taiwan and Korea. Its armies had recently taken over Manchuria which it was busily exploiting for its natural resources. Japan was eager to assert its newly created power, no matter how late it had come to the imperial table.

Creating an empire at the expense of its neighbours went deeper than a simple display of national pride and martial vigour. Japan held a population in excess of 100 million in a narrow, mountainous, archipelago smaller in area than the state of California. It had no natural resources to speak of and its fledgling export market had been cruelly hit by the Great Depression. The political unrest which brought the militarists to power in the mid-1930s had in part been driven by appalling conditions of near starvation in the countryside (from which the Army drew most of its recruits).

Japan was hungry for land, fuel and resources - first in Manchuria and then in China, which it attacked in 1937. The war in China went well at first with Japanese forces seizing Shanghai and all of the Chinese coastal provinces. It was only when the Army moved inland that the vastness of the land engulfed them. They had superior firepower, better equipment, air support, and well-trained troops: they never actually lost any battle or failed in any siege of a city (Nanking is one telling example) but they were unable to secure the lands they overran and came under constant attack from both the Communists under Mao-tse-tung and the American-backed Nationalists (Kuomintang) under Chiang-kai-shek. (More of the former than of the latter, it should be remarked). Casualties mounted on the Japanese side -- the Chinese suffered far worse -- and the war became increasingly brutal.

To Be Continued ... if time permits. December is always a crazily busy month!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

237. A Reminder

Have you ever noticed
how nation-states
and empires in particular
politicize everyday
life, mess with your head?

Believe this, don't
believe that; listen
to what we say; don't
dare investigate
our slimy secrets?

A filthy dictatorship
is good for your soul
evil in black and white
decent people
to righteous resistance.

You know where you stand.

At home, among friends,
in the half light
and the hypocricy,
amid the general confusion
and a childish wish to believe
in Santa, measured
against moderate
disapproval of extremes,
the sleepless
ambitious manipulators
find the room to play
with our illusions,
our good faith,
our laziness,
and so insist
we support them,
even collaborate
in their will to power,
their urge to kill.

War is always
a bad sign: outer-directed
violence soon redirects
upon the home population:
keep a weather eye
on the process of detention
(habeas corpus!!)
as the hardwon rights
of several centuries
melt away
in spite of your careless
sense of safety.

Nobody is safe.

You won't be flying today, ma'am.
Excuse me? Why not?
I'm not allowed to tell you.

Sooner or later
we can anticipate
for political opposition,
perhaps even
judicial executions.

Never, never happen here!!!!!
Don't be stupid.
Check out the real history
of so-called
"national emergencies"
starting with
The Civil War.

The government
doesn't need a legal basis
to come after you.
It will when it wants to.

The Molly Maguires,
the Spanish-American war,
the Wobblies (International Workers of the World),
Eugene Debs,
the First World War,
the Red Scare of 1919,
World War Two,
the McCarthy hearings,
Daniel Ellsberg,
and now ....
direct from Washington
brought to your own living room --
The Global (boom)
War (boom)
on Terror!!! (cymbals, boom).

Here we go
Here we go

Saturday, December 03, 2005

236. EFL (English as a Foreign Language)

This gap-toothed
grinning baboon
runs a chain of schools
and sucks in
two million
each year
out of which
he seems to be willing
to pay me
2000 bucks a month
(before deductions)
if I meet
his rather
Mister Bobby, he says,
but my friends
just call me Bob
(and you can call me Robert).
No, no, Mister Bobby,
nice and fliendly, students like,
I like, his gold teeth
gleam, a wide smile
dazzles but never reaches
his flat
blackcurrant eyes.
We have many girl
so we need handsome boy,
tall, blue eye, you know?
As I said, Mister Sato,
I have a Master's degree
in English, seven years
of experience
teaching EFL
in Spain, Russia
and Saudi Arabia.
Oh -- ho ho ho ho ho !
Very good, very good,
you never date girls, OK?
Excuse me?
You teach, no touch,
no go outside, OK?
You mean my students?
Hai, hai, hai!!
Girl maybe like you, come school,
but you nevah nevah nevah
For businessmens
we have
blonde American ladies
with big, haha,
(he juggles his chest)
but no touch, no see
outside, same
like you, OK?
I begin
to understand
the intellectual
of this business.
You no join union
(a spit and a hiss)
you give me also
your passport
I take care
No Ploblem.
Big smile.
Sweaty handshake.
I need a job.
I'm broke.
I'm in debt to the guys
who have let me crash
in their tiny Tokyo apartment.
I must get a job,
I must get a job
but hang on ....
wait a second!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

235. Heaven Sent

God heard the embattled nations sing and shout
'Gott strafe England!' and 'God save the King!'
God this, God that, and God the other thing —
'Good God!' said God, 'I've got my work cut out!'

Does God endorse George Bush?

So, does God endorse our own George Bush?
Emmm ... says God ... George Who?

I'm more interested
in the poor
the downtrodden
the ill, the suffering,
the starving children,
the victims of injustice,
the suffering souls
whose hearts
are still open to divine love.
These are the inheritors
of the Kingdom of Heaven ...

and there's not much room
for the fat and the sassy.

We have adopted
a restricted entry program
for the French
and Americans
Democrats and Republicans alike
(same difference)
we are having
slightly increasing success
in keeping out the Irish
maintaining strict limits
on the English
and the Welsh
but we rather like the Geordies
who follow the Toon
and the Kilties
who support Celtic
Chelsea luvvies
immediately transported
The Other Establishment.

So there you are, says God.

OK, right ... here comes the article.

Does God endorse George Bush?
By Steven Waldman

(While) Bush's public comments about faith have been mostly within the mainstream tradition of presidential rhetoric, his supporters lately have gone in a less-familiar direction: conveying the idea that God is responsible for Bush being in the White House.

"He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge," said George Pataki in the high-profile introduction of Bush at the Republican National Convention, an introduction almost certainly scrubbed if not written by the White House.

"I thank God that on September 11th, we had a president who didn't wring his hands and wonder what America had done wrong to deserve this attack," he added. "I thank God we had a president who understood that America was attacked, not for what we had done wrong, but for what we did right."

If he'd said "thank God" just once we might have concluded this was simply colloquial usage—a dramatic way of saying, "it's a darn good thing." That the man introducing Bush thanked God three times makes it suspicious, even more so given these lines from Rudy Giuliani's speech two nights earlier: "Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God, George Bush is our president.' " And, to reinforce the point, Giuliani added, "And I say it again tonight: Thank God, George Bush is our president."

This is not the first time it's been suggested that God deserves thanks for the 2000 election results. Several sympathetic books about Bush and his faith make a big deal of his deciding to run for president after hearing a Texas minister named Rev. Mark Craig preach about how Moses had been called to service by God. Bush's mother reportedly turned to her son after the sermon and said, "He was talking to you."

Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush, goes on to say: "Not long after, Bush called James Robison (a prominent minister) and told him, 'I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President.' " Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention heard Bush say something similar: "Among the things he said to us was: I believe that God wants me to be president, but if that doesn't happen, it's OK.' "

After 9/11, the sense among his supporters that God had chosen him increased. "I think that God picked the right man at the right time for the right purpose," said popular Christian broadcaster Janet Parshall. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who got in trouble for derogatory comments about Islam, argued that it must have been God who selected Bush, since a plurality of voters hadn't. "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this." (Boykin still has his job.)

Time magazine reported, "Privately, Bush talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." World Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, quoted White House official Tim Goeglein as saying, "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say this with a great sense of humility."

Even former President George H.W. Bush speculated that perhaps he needed to be defeated so that his son could become president: "If I'd won that election in 1992, my oldest son would not be president of the United States of America," he said. "I think the Lord works in mysterious ways."

Are the White House and the Bush campaign actively encouraging the idea that Bush has been put there by God? Bush has been careful to never say anything close to that in public. And yet the combination of passages in carefully vetted speeches and quotes from close friends or supporters indicate that this is the understanding.

In one sense, it's not surprising that some people believe this. Many, if not most, Americans believe that God intervenes in the lives of humans. If that weren't the case, prayer might be considered superfluous, meaningless. If God intervenes in the affairs of ordinary humans who pray for recovery from illness or a better job, it only stands to reason that He would control something as consequential as an American presidency.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

234. Uncivil War

A Matthew Brady portrait of Union officers, ca.1862


Massa Robert was on a roll.
His army was invincible
and, yes, by God they knew it!
Time to cross the Potomac.

Lee's Union opponent, Hooker,
was badly confused,
at odds with the War Department
at odds with Honest Abe.

Time to cross the river.

Maryland, Pennsylvania,
untouched peaceful farms,
milk, butter, eggs and beef:
live off their land for a change

(but all paid for in Southern script).

down in Richmond
capital of the CSA
sits wild and beloved Johnny Mitchel.

Who is this man?

Mitchel was England's
worst nightmare, a revolutionary
in control of a Dublin newspaper,
calling for the end of English rule.

Get your fat British behinds
out of Ireland, today and
not tomorrow: this was
the tone and import of the "United Irishman"

The English, as is their wont,
passed a brand new law
ex post facto, a frequent occurrence,
to nail this firebrand nuisance.

................................................................. John Mitchel (1815-1875

So, for his sins, poor John
and Francy Meagher, his friend,
were sentenced to death for treason
but transported to Australia instead.

Out of sight, out of mind.

From Australia they both escaped
(conspiracy theories abound)
and both, separately, made their way
to the USA, safe among Irish friends.

John sailed back to France
(Ireland was unsafe, but France was free)
while Meagher took over the Irish in New York.
Then along came the Civil War.

Francy took command of the Fighting 69th
the best and the worst of the New York Irish
committed to the Union cause.
But Mitchel came out for the South.

Returned to Richmond (running the blockade)
his sons joined Confederate regiments
while Mitchel himself wrote intemperate articles
for the local newspapers.

.................................TF Meagher (seated, centre) with officers of the Fighting 69th

Now Lee crosses the Potomac.

Among the troops under his command
are the veteran First Virginians
with their standard bearer, young Willie,
17-year-old son of John Mitchel.

Hooker gets the push and in comes Meade
(Union generals never lasted long).
The armies march under the summer sun
and make contact in rural Pennsylvania.


Two days of deadly skirmishing:
marches, countermarches,
concentrated cannonades,
savage assaults, grim defences,
until both armies, Union and Confederate,
like bareknuckle boxers
bloodied and exhausted,
stagger, punch drunk, to the mark
and face the third and final day:

July 3, 1863.

Not only the battle
but the outcome of the War
hangs in the balance.

Intense fighting erupted on Culp's Hill at 4 AM on July 3 and by 11 AM Union troops had secured the hill, firmly anchoring the point of the Union 'fishhook' line. With the loss of his advantage at Culp's Hill, Lee decided to alter his strategy. Lee decided to strike what he thought to be a weakened Union center on Cemetery Ridge where he observed few troops and only a handful of artillery batteries. If this section of Meade's line collapsed, it would threaten the Union rear. Lee issued orders for a massive bombardment followed by an assault of 18,000 men, commanded by General James Longstreet. Longstreet's Assault, better known today as "Pickett's Charge" would be Lee's last gamble at Gettysburg.
http:// www.nps.gov/gett/gettour/day3.htm *

Waiting for orders --
then abruptly hauled into the line
along with so many others
come the First Virginians:
and among them Willie Mitchel.

Wait for it ...
Wait for it ...
Then the air splits with the sound
of high-pitched bugles:
now, boys, now,
now, now, now!
The screaming 'caoine' of the Rebel Yell:

The bullets come sizzling by
whizzing like demented hornets
zzzzzzzzz... then a dull flat 'pok'
when they hit with a puff of dust
and down goes the sergeant
down goes Billy Joe Parker
down goes the Preacher
then red-haired Randy Simmonds
Archie Drummond, poor little
Jimmy Preston, then that bald
old bastard what's-his-name,
then Johnny Belham, Andrew Holland,
"Daddy" Goulder, Snakepit Jones,
Paddy Miles, Dandy Kelleher,
'Arsey' Versey, Jimbo, Davy, Mack,
Pauly O'Brien ... Pascal ... all of them?
"Get your ass up here, Mitchel,
and take this goddam flag!!"
He stumbles, drop his rifle,
hears a sizzling past his ear
and grabs the blood-smeared
wooden pole, the flag little more
than a rag shot through
with holes and he runs
and he runs and he runs
and he ....

Down past Coliso Farm
in the grey morning dawn
come O'Rourke and Timothy Fallon
gaunt-visaged figures in Union blue
with Privates O'Donnell and McCarthy
and with the two corporals
Delaroche and McInteer
to recover the body
of John Mitchel's son.
They carry him away from the field
in a final act of honour
and respect for his patriot father;
the blood-sodden war, for the moment
forgotten, and the next war,
the long hard struggle for Ireland
very much in mind.
* -- for some obscure reason the National Park Service will not always accept a linked post and will flash a Security Violation message: if this happens to you simply copy/paste the URL into a new browser window: http:// www.nps.gov/gett/gettour/day3.htm
First off, this piece says more about Ireland than the American Civil War. Sorry. But people fight in wars (even your own) for different reasons ....

John Mitchel was imprisoned after the Civil War for his unapologetic support of the Confederacy but he managed to make his way back to Ireland where he was elected to the British Parliament in 1874. He refused to take his seat (as elected Sinn Fein candidates in British-controlled Northern Ireland continue to do today) because he would not take an oath of loyalty to the British Crown. The British annulled the election on the grounds that Mitchel was a convicted felon but he won re-election with an even larger majority. Do not mess with the Irish. He died before the Brits could decide what to do next. In the aftermath of the Civil War many ex-soldiers (Confederate and Union alike) took part in the Fenian Rising of 1867 which was brutally suppressed by the British. Jail sentences for the survivors were savage. Out of these hellish prisons came Tom Clarke who helped to set up the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Dublin in the decades before the First World War. On the principle that England's misfortune was Ireland's opportunity the rebels struck during Easter Week of 1916. The rebellion was suppressed and the leaders (including Clarke) summarily executed. But after the Crucifixion came the Resurrection and the modern Irish republic was born out of the anger and disgust with Britain that became a national movement for independence after the events of 1916. Thank You and God Bless You, Michael Collins. I mean that. Without you I'd still be waltzing around the world with a British passport.


In-house Links:

history The Runup to Easter 1916

poem After the Rising

tongue-in-cheek history primer for beginners From the Normans to Michael Collins (1170-1922)

poem Across the Water

history (anger, regret) Armistice Day

Saturday, November 12, 2005

233. Totally Brilliant

You're going to need QuickTime 6+ for this and probably a broadband or LAN connection. The URLs will not work as links (you have to copy/paste into a new browser window) and they might take a minute or two to load ... but as the Guinness people are forever telling us, it's definitely worth the hassle and the wait!

speaking of which, My Goodness My Guinness http://www.bestadsontv.com/ad_details.php?id=634

Hang the expense - go for a Stella! http://www.bestadsontv.com/ad_details.php?id=151

Singin in the Rain -- with my Volkswagen. http://www.bestadsontv.com/ad_details.php?id=25

so very very sad - a Heineken moment. http://www.bestadsontv.com/ad_details.php?id=32

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

232. Birthday Poem

I don't even want
to think
all the things
have happened;
nor think
all the things

I deal
most of the time
with the
surrounding world
in English
when I don't:
that's when
two other
come into play
and spatterings
of six or seven

creates an
of cultural calculus
in which
the fixed
(from which perspective
either reveals
itself, or becomes
doesn't stand still.

When you
feel 'at home'
in another language
you are
in a different house
far away
from home.
You are
but you are not
the same person.

One language
functional, it is
all we
we need.
It is not.
It is a restriction
a self-willed
a primary gap
of understanding
the world we understand
and the worlds
we don't.

231. breithlá shona duit ... go maire tú an lá!

"So, did you hear the news?"

"Bejasus, could have knocked me over with a feather!"

"Ah, but isn't it only natural?"

"Huh? Total shock ...!"

Oh, well, whatever ... here's to another one!!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

230. an observation

when things
start to fall apart
you can tell
in advance
by the physical
little buzz
the adrenalin
like a bad batch
of speed: the world
takes on
an unwelcome clarity
some new
to the images
your brain

and this
sometimes happens
in dreams:
a little warning
in the morning

the crossover
is too late --
the subconscious
is the harbinger
of your waking
real-life fate.

229. levels of education

Monday, October 31, 2005

228. Republic, yes; Empire, no!

Empire of Denial

By MIKE MARQUSEE (Counterpunch)

The US maintains military bases in 140 foreign countries (needless to say, there are no foreign military bases on US territory). Thanks to exorbitant military spending more than the combined total of the 32 next most well-armed nations - the US enjoys a unique and coercive global reach, a monopoly which it intends to preserve at all costs, as the current National Security Strategy makes clear. The US claims and exercises a prerogative to topple other regimes and occupy other countries that it denies to all other nation-states. Through the IMF, WTO and World Bank, it shapes the economic destinies of most people on the planet. The fact is that the fate of billions living beyond US borders is determined by decisions made in Washington.

Yet, we are told, this is not an empire. True, the US prefers indirect over direct rule; its domination is exercised, for the most part, through military and commercial alliances, rather than outright conquest. But empires of the past have also used these methods. What really makes the US different is the persistence and in most cases the sincerity of its imperial denial.


The history of denial is as long as the history of intervention and that goes back to the first decades of the republic, when US forces engaged in military action to protect US shipping in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Sumatra and Peru. In US foreign policy, respect for the sovereignty of others has always come second to commercial interests. By the end of the 19th century, the US had annexed Hawaii, along with dozens of smaller islands across the Pacific, and used military force to secure a foothold in the markets of China and Japan.

When it prised the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico from the dying Spanish empire in 1898, the US declared "a new day of freedom" in these "liberated" lands. Filipinos took the rhetoric seriously and rebelled against the imposition of US rule. After more than a decade of brutal counter-insurgency, a quarter of a million Filipinos had been killed, and 4200 Americans. This was ten times the number of Americans killed in the brief Spanish-American War. Yet US history textbooks routinely assign far more space to the latter than the former.

America, Woodrow Wilson declared, was "the only idealistic nation in the world". He proclaimed "national self-determination" as the cornerstone of a new world order, but deployed US military forces overseas more frequently than any of his predecessors: against Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua and the nascent Soviet Union.

Thanks to history textbooks, Hollywood, television and politicians (Democrat and Republican), the US people are kept in ignorance of their imperial past. Each intervention is presented as an altruistic response to a crisis. Since there is no American empire, no pattern, habit or system of extra-territorial domination, the motive for each intervention is assessed at face value. Somehow the principles of liberty and human happiness always seem magically to coincide with American national self-interest or, more precisely, the economic interests of the US elite.


Opposition to foreign domination is not an emotional spasm. It is grounded in history and experience and the balance of probabilities (not least the probability that the imperial power will place its own interests before those of the people it rules). The rationalisations and even the forms of empire change but the underlying reality does not. Decisive power, military and economic, remains in the hands of a distant elite.

Whether it's talk of "empire lite" or Bush-style unilateralism, you can hear the drumbeat of the old American exceptionalism, the claim that the US has a unique destiny and that this destiny embodies the fate of humankind. History has taught peoples in many lands to fear the USA's altruism. In a poem from the early 1920s entitled 'The Evening Land', DH Lawrence wrote:

I am so terrified, America,
Of the iron click of your human contact.
And after this
The winding-sheet of your selfless ideal love.
Boundless love
Like a poison gas.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

227. After the Rising

We picked our way through the rubble
on Friday evening, myself and my sister,
stepping over the broken tramlines
on O'Connell Steet, shaking our heads
at the shell-damaged buildings,
two females, silenced and appalled.

It seemed as though
nothing was left: the city
we had loved and lived in
was gone. It was destroyed.

"God's curse on these people
for the trouble they have caused",
said my sister, Dervla, petulantly,
she was trembling, walking by my side.
"God's curse on the bloody English"
said a voice which was my own.

"May God curse and blast
every single one of them,
every bloody bitches
bastard mother's son!"

Dervla sprang away from me
as well she might
shocked and scandalised
her mouth hanging open
(never before had she heard such language)
my genteel and proper sister.

Next day I went to work for the rebels
who had no other name,
not in those days, and a young fellow
breezed in from an English
prison, that would be 1917,
and ran me off my feet.

"Miss O'Grady", he said,
"you will take a memo, please,
and I want copies of the previous letter
with suitable amendments
typed and legible for my signature
by 5 o'clock this evening".

"Yes, Mr. Collins", I said,
"and would you mind very much
if I was just a little bit late
returning this afternoon?
It's just that the sales are on
at Brown Thomas in Grafton Street".

"Miss O'Grady, you astonish me.
Do you propose to gambol and play,
to disport yourself, to sling
about your hard earned shillings
(God knows how little I pay you)
in mercantile British corridors?"

Well, there was no answer to that.
I glared at him, furiously,
as he unleashed his wide and sunny grin.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

226. October in Ireland (2003)

The rain spatters
on the double-glazed windows
when the evening
draws in, so we pull across
the curtains, lay
some more of those Bord na Mona
turf briquettes
upon the spitting, hissing
crackling fire, then nurse
our fiery drams
in Waterford tumblers,
listening to but half ignoring
the shriek
and whistle of the wind.

"I don't know," says Uncle Liam
"how much of this you can understand."

in this whitewashed cottage
planted, perversely
on the edge
of nearly nowhere
sits a four-poster bed
with sagging springs
in a room
no longer used nor visited
occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs
began the genesis
the procreative urges
of an ongoing family tragedy.

The lashing rain, the heartless wind
derides our humanity.
Now as in times past
and in the coming times to be
it mocks our hopes
our aspirations
our nationality.

Pain, turbulence, famine, grief.

On the bedroom wall
housed in an ancient frame
is a faded stitching sampler
"God Bless Our Happy Home"
piously, but uncertainly
accomplished, by her own hand,
by Emily May MacCarthy
on October 20, 1843,
the fifth of eleven children
and one of the seven
who starved to death
along with her despairing parents.

Other photographs of gentlemen
wih large moustaches
stare into the unforgiving lens
with comical expressions
of puzzled defiance,
arranged in front of studio
backdrops, and very
tasteful potted palms.
--James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis --
is stamped within an oval
in the corner: the address
still exists, I went to have a look,
it is now a fast-food restaurant.

Wedding couples
equally unrelaxed, stare
across the years of mutual
incomprehension: I could not
even begin
to talk to these people.
He sits, she stands,
but she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid farming shoulder.

A history of unhappiness.

But there's another
strangely out-of-place picture
of my great-uncle Marteen Rua
the red-haired boy
shot dead in the civil war
a cocky 19-year-old
with a cheeky grin
an enormous revolver
and with a paparoosi cigarette
dangling from his left jaw.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink,
we could have had a talk, he cuts through
all the lace-curtain piety
the respectability
the fear: he looks
so modern, so devil-me-care.

But the rain will have none of it:
it comes down in buckets
it comes down in cascades.
You will never never never,
you will never never be free, it says:
in this country you will never
never be released from the past.

Liam is uncharacteristically
subdued, even embarrassed: he shifts
from foot to foot, in front
of the warm and blazing fire.
We are warmed outside
and inside, too
thanks to the single malt.

there are more old photographs
here and there
on the dresser and on the sideboards:
cloche hats on smiling elegant women,
charabancs, baggy suits
on the gents, who grin and squint
in the harsh sunlight
of long forgotten days,
some of them sporting
those ridiculously
shortened neckties: my unknown
recent ancestors.

A flicker of empathy
of understanding
runs through
this threnody of regret.

"Listen, I think I'm going to bed,
it's been a really long day," I say.
Liam frowns. An awkward
silence ensues: " Emmmm ...
Listen to me. There's something
I really need to tell you.
It's about the family .... "


It will keep for another hundred years.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

225. I wanted to slap him ....!

Carole Coleman's interview with President Bush for Irish television

“Is that how you do it in Ireland — interrupting people all the time?”
I froze. He was not happy with me and was letting me know it.
“Yes,” I stuttered, ....

10/09/05 "Sunday Times" -- -- (excerpt)

Mr President,” I began. “You will arrive in Ireland in less than 24 hours’ time. While our political leaders will welcome you, unfortunately the majority of our people will not. They are annoyed about the war in Iraq and about Abu Ghraib. Are you bothered by what Irish people think?”

The president was reclining in his seat and had a half-smile on his face, a smile I had often seen when he had to deal with something he would rather not.

“Listen. I hope the Irish people understand the great values of our country. And if they think that a few soldiers represent the entirety of America, they don’t really understand America then . . . We are a compassionate country. We’re a strong country, and we’ll defend ourselves. But we help people. And we’ve helped the Irish and we’ll continue to do so. We’ve got a good relationship with Ireland.”

“And they are angry over Iraq as well and particularly the continuing death toll there,” I added, moving him on to the war that had claimed 100 Iraqi lives that very day. He continued to smile, but just barely.

“Well, I can understand that. People don’t like war. But what they should be angry about is the fact that there was a brutal dictator there that had destroyed lives and put them in mass graves and torture rooms . . . Look, Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against the neighbourhood. He was a brutal dictator who posed a threat that the United Nations voted unanimously to say, Mr Saddam Hussein . . .”

Having noted the tone of my questions, the president had now sat forward in his chair and had become animated, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. But as I listened to the history of Saddam Hussein and the weapons inspectors and the UN resolutions, my heart was sinking. He was resorting to the type of meandering stock answer I had heard scores of times and had hoped to avoid. Going back over this old ground could take two or three minutes and allow him to keep talking without dealing with the current state of the war. It was a filibuster of sorts. If I didn’t challenge him, the interview would be a wasted opportunity.

“But, Mr President, you didn’t find any weapons,” I interjected.

“Let me finish, let me finish. May I finish?”

With his hand raised, he requested that I stop speaking. He paused and looked me straight in the eye to make sure I had got the message. He wanted to continue, so I backed off and he went on. “The United Nations said, ‘Disarm or face serious consequences’. That’s what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn’t disarm. He didn’t disclose his arms. And therefore he faced serious consequences. But we have found a capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons . . .”

I was now beginning to feel shut out of this event. He had the floor and he wasn’t letting me dance. My blood was boiling to such a point that I felt like slapping him. But I was dealing with the president of the United States; and he was too far away anyway. I suppose I had been naive to think that he was making himself available to me so I could spar with him or plumb the depths of his thought processes. Sitting there, I knew that I was nobody special and that this was just another opportunity for the president to repeat his mantra. He seemed irked to be faced with someone who wasn’t nodding gravely at him as he was speaking.

“But Mr President,” I interrupted again, “the world is a more dangerous place today. I don’t know whether you can see that or not.”

“Why do you say that?”

“There are terrorist bombings every single day. It’s now a daily event. It wasn’t like that two years ago.”

“What was it like on September 11 2001? It was a . . . there was relative calm, we . . .”

“But it’s your response to Iraq that’s considered . . .”

“Let me finish. Let me finish. Please. You ask the questions and I’ll answer them, if you don’t mind.”

His hand was raised again as if to indicate that he was not going to tolerate this. Again, I felt I had no choice but to keep quiet.

“On September 11 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion. Everybody thought the world was calm. There have been bombings since then — not because of my response to Iraq. There were bombings in Madrid, there were bombings in Istanbul. There were bombings in Bali. There were killings in Pakistan.”

He seemed to be finished, so I took a deep breath and tried once again. So far, facial expressions were defining this interview as much as anything that was said, so I focused on looking as if I was genuinely trying to fathom him.

“Indeed, Mr President, and I think Irish people understand that. But I think there is a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place because you have taken the focus off Al-Qaeda and diverted into Iraq. Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place? I saw four of your soldiers lying dead on the television the other day, a picture of four soldiers just lying there without their flak jackets.”

“Listen, nobody cares more about death than I do . . .”
“Is there a point or place . . .”

“Let me finish. Please. Let me finish, and then you can follow up, if you don’t mind.” 

By now he was getting used to the rhythm of this interview and didn’t seem quite so taken aback by my attempt to take control of it. “Nobody cares more about death than I do. I care a lot about it. But I do believe the world is a safer place and becoming a safer place. I know that a free Iraq is going to be a necessary part of changing the world.”

The president seemed to be talking more openly now and from the heart rather than from a script. The history lesson on Saddam was over. “Listen, people join terrorist organisations because there’s no hope and there’s no chance to raise their families in a peaceful world where there is not freedom. And so the idea is to promote freedom and at the same time protect our security. And I do believe the world is becoming a better place, absolutely.”

I could not tell how much time had elapsed, maybe five or six minutes, so I moved quickly on to the question I most wanted to ask George Bush in person.

“Mr President, you are a man who has a great faith in God. I’ve heard you say many times that you strive to serve somebody greater than yourself.”


“Do you believe that the hand of God is guiding you in this war on terror?”

This question had been on my mind ever since September 11, when Bush began to invoke God in his speeches. He spoke as if he believed that his job of stewarding America through the attacks and beyond was somehow preordained, that he had been chosen for this role. He closed his eyes as he began to answer.

“Listen, I think that God . . . that my relationship with God is a very personal relationship. And I turn to the Good Lord for strength. I turn to the Good Lord for guidance. I turn to the Good Lord for forgiveness. But the God I know is not one that . . . the God I know is one that promotes peace and freedom. But I get great sustenance from my personal relationship.”

He sat forward again. “That doesn’t make me think I’m a better person than you are, by the way. Because one of the great admonitions in the Good Book is, ‘Don’t try to take a speck out of your eye if I’ve got a log in my own’.”

I suspected that he was also telling me that I should not judge him.

I switched to Ireland again and to the controversy then raging over the Irish government’s decision to allow the use of Shannon Airport for the transport of soldiers and weapons to the Gulf.

“You are going to meet Bertie Ahern when you arrive at Shannon Airport tomorrow. I guess he went out on a limb for you, presumably because of the great friendship between our two countries. Can you look him in the eye when you get there and say, ‘It will be worth it, it will work out’?”

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t be doing this, I wouldn’t have made the decision I did if I didn’t think the world would be better.”

I felt that the President had now become personally involved in this interview, even quoting a Bible passage, so I made one more stab at trying to get inside his head.

“Why is it that others don’t understand what you are about?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. History will judge what I’m about.”

I could not remember my next question. My mind had gone completely blank. The president had not removed me from his gaze since we had begun and I wanted to keep up the eye contact.

If I diverted to my notes on the table beside me, he would know he had flustered me. For what seemed like an eternity, but probably no more than two seconds, I stared at him, searching his eyes for inspiration. It finally came.

“Can I just turn to the Middle East?”


He talked about his personal commitment to solving that conflict. As he did so, I could see one of the White House crew signalling for me to wrap up the interview, but the president was in full flight.

“Like Iraq, the Palestinian and the Israeli issue is going to require good security measures,” he said.

Now out of time, I was fully aware that another question was pushing it, but I would never be here again and I had spent four years covering an administration that appeared to favour Israel at every turn.

“And perhaps a bit more even-handedness from America?” I asked, though it came out more as a comment.

The president did not see the look of horror on the faces of his staff as he began to defend his stance. “I’m the first president to have called for a Palestinian state. That to me sounds like a reasonable and balanced approach. I will not allow terrorists determine the fate, as best I can, of people who want to be free.”

Hands were signalling furiously now for me to end the interview.

“Mr President, thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, still half-smiling and half-frowning.

It was over. I felt like a delinquent child who had been reprimanded by a stern, unwavering father. My face must have been the same colour as my suit. Yet I also knew that we had discussed some important issues — probably more candidly than I had heard from President Bush in some time.

I was removing my microphone when he addressed me.

“Is that how you do it in Ireland — interrupting people all the time?”

I froze. He was not happy with me and was letting me know it.

“Yes,” I stuttered, determined to maintain my own half-smile.

I was aching to get out of there for a breath of air when I remembered that I had earlier discussed with staff the possibility of having my picture taken with the president. I had been told that, when the interview was over, I could stand up with him and the White House photographer would snap a picture. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I stood up and asked him to join me.

“Oh, she wants the photograph now,” he said from his still-seated position. He rose, stood beside me and put an arm around my shoulder. Taking his cue, I put an arm up around his shoulder and we both grinned for the cameras.

In my haste to leave I almost forgot the tapes and had to be reminded by the film crew to take them. I and my assistants bolted out to the street. We ran, high heels and all, across Lafayette Park. Running through rush-hour traffic, I thought that this had to be about as crazy as a journalist’s job gets.

I had just been admonished by the president of the United States and now I was turning cartwheels in order to get the interview on air. As I dashed past a waste bin, I had a fleeting urge to throw in the tapes and run home instead. 

At the studio I handed over the tapes. My phone rang. It was MC, and her voice was cold.

“We just want to say how disappointed we are in the way you conducted the interview,” she said.

“How is that?” I asked.

“You talked over the president, not letting him finish his answers.”

“Oh, I was just moving him on,” I said, explaining that I wanted some new insight from him, not two-year-old answers.

“He did give you plenty of new stuff.”

She estimated that I had interrupted the president eight times and added that I had upset him. I was upset too, I told her. The line started to break up; I was in a basement with a bad phone signal. I took her number and agreed to call her back. I dialled the White House number and she was on the line again.

“I’m here with Colby,” she indicated.


“You were given an opportunity to interview the leader of the free world and you blew it,” she began.

I was beginning to feel as if I might be dreaming. I had naively believed the American president was referred to as the “leader of the free world” only in an unofficial tongue-in-cheek sort of way by outsiders, and not among his closest staff.

“You were more vicious than any of the White House press corps or even some of them up on Capitol Hill . . .The president leads the interview,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” I replied, my initial worry now turning to frustration. “It’s the journalist’s job to lead the interview.”

It was suggested that perhaps I could edit the tapes to take out the interruptions, but I made it clear that this would not be possible.

As the conversation progressed, I learnt that I might find it difficult to secure further co-operation from the White House. A man’s voice then came on the line. Colby, I assumed. “And, it goes without saying, you can forget about the interview with Laura Bush.”

Clearly the White House had thought they would be dealing with an Irish “colleen” bowled over by the opportunity to interview the Bushes. If anyone there had done their research on RTE’s interviewing techniques, they might have known better.

MC also indicated that she would be contacting the Irish Embassy in Washington — in other words, an official complaint from Washington to Dublin.

“I don’t know how we are going to repair this relationship, but have a safe trip back to Ireland,” MC concluded. I told her I had not meant to upset her since she had been more than helpful to me. The conversation ended.

By the time I got to the control room, the Prime Time broadcast had just started. It was at the point of the first confrontation with the “leader of the free world” and those gathered around the monitors were glued to it. “Well done,” someone said. “This is great.”

I thought about the interview again as I climbed up the steps to RTE’s live camera position at Dromoland Castle to account for myself on the 6pm news next day. By now the White House had vented its anger to the Irish embassy in Washington. To make matters worse for the administration, the interview had made its way onto American television and CNN was replaying it around the world and by the end of the day it had been aired in Baghdad.

Had I been fair? Should I just have been more deferential to George Bush? I felt that I had simply done my job and shuddered at the thought of the backlash I would surely have faced in Ireland had I not challenged the president on matters that had changed the way America was viewed around the world.

Afterwards I bumped straight into the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who was waiting to go on air.

“Howya,” he said, winking.

“I hope this hasn’t caused you too much hassle, taoiseach,” I blurted.

“Arrah, don’t worry at all; you haven’t caused me one bit of hassle,” he smiled wryly.

I don’t know what he said to the president, who reportedly referred to the interview immediately upon arrival, but if the taoiseach was annoyed with me or with RTE, he didn’t show it.

When I returned to my little world on the street called M in Washington, I felt a tad more conspicuous than when I’d left for Ireland. Google was returning more than 100,000 results on the subject of the 12-minute interview. The vast majority of bloggers felt it was time a reporter had challenged Bush.

(This article is extracted from the opening chapter of Alleluia America! by Carole Coleman, to be published by The Liffey Press on October 14 at €14.95.) 

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

224. Thinking in Irish

all images are courtesy of Kristen. N. Fox at www.artoffoxvox.com

Slainte go saol agat,
(Slancha ga sheyl agat)

Bean ar do mhian agat.
(Ban ir da vian agat)

Leanbh gach blian agat,
(Lanov gach bleean agat)

is solas na bhflaitheas tareis antsail seo agat.
(Iss solas na vlahas tareesh antshall sha agat.)

Very Celtic. But what does it mean?

Health in life to you,
A wife of your choice to you,
Land without rent to you,
And the light of heaven after this world for you.

Let's look at something a bit longer ....

Go raibh tú daibhir i mí-áidh
Agus saibhir i mbeannachtaí
Go mall ag déanamh namhaid, go luath a déanamh carad,
Ach saibhir nó daibhir, go mall nó go luath,
Nach raibh ach áthas agat
Ón lá seo amach.

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings, 
Slow to make enemies, 
quick to make friends, 
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness 
From this day forward.

Nice. This next one is a very popular toast in Ireland --- 

Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bás in Eirinn. 
"Long life to you, a wet mouth, and death in Ireland."

The idea of dying away from home is unthinkable. We do, anyway.
Here's another:

Má dhéanann tu séitéireacht, go ndéana tú séitéireacht ar an mbás,
Má ghoideann tú, go ngoide tú croí mná;
Má throideann tú, go dtroide tú i leith do bhráthar, 
Agus má ólann tú, go n-óla tú liom féin.

If you cheat, may you cheat death.
If you steal, may you steal a woman's heart.
If you fight, may you fight for a brother.
And if you drink, may you drink with me.

and another ....

Go bhfana í ngrá linn, 
Iad siúd atá í ngrá linn.
Iad siúd nach bhfuil,
Go gcasa Dia a gcroíthe.
Agus muna gcasann Sé a gcroíthe 
Go gcasa Sé caol na coise acu 
Go n-aithneoimid iad as a mbacadaíl. 

May those who love us, 
Love us. 
And those who do not love us, 
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.

So if you break your leg or twist an ankle, be aware of those strange looks from your Irish neighbours.

Back in the pub --

Go raibh do ghloine lán go deo.
Go raibh láidir go breá
an dion thar do cheann.
Go raibh tú í Neamh,
leathúair os comhair
a bhfuil a fhíos ag an diabhal
atá tú bás.  

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head.
be always strong.
May you be in heaven 
a half hour before 
the devil knows you're dead.

And, finally, this is the one we say to our friends and family, particularly when we don't have many chances to meet and wonder when the next opportunity will arise.

Go mbeire muid beo ar an am seo aris!
(Go mary me byo ar anam sha areesh) 
"May we be alive (and together) at this time next year."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

223. Photos from JALT 2005

Click on photos to expand

Michael McCarthy tells it like it is

Robert and Rube at the party

JD & Craig Sweet

The international food fair ... where many of the best presentations took place!!

Chris & Brian at Safari Bar

So you want a shamrock, do you ...?

Captain Braindeath demonstrates non-vocal communication

David Nunan tells it like it is

Michael displays his other talents