Children at your feet

June 15th, 2011

Watch this. It’s a video of last night’s New Hampshire Republican pre-primary debate. The main battle seemed not to be over healthcare, the military, education, jobs or the economy, but over who was responsible for bringing more American children into the world. Michelle Bachmann thought she had won with 28 — five to which she had given birth plus 23 fostered — until Ron Paul came in with over 4,000. It’s a truly bizarre debate.

FIFA the Banana Republic

June 9th, 2011

What are the main principles of a banana republic? Ownership of a state ought to be one taken as a given, another perhaps being that the state ought to have a currency which is an international laughingstock. These principles would automatically disqualify FIFA, the international governing body of association football . . . or would they? FIFA, of course, is not a state, but rather a part-stakeholder and sometime benefactor of 208 states. That’s more than the United Nations. And currency? Currency itself is the commodity that FIFA trades – the bananas, if you will – previously in an indiscreet way, but now in such a brazenly open fashion that it makes a mockery of those people who ultimately fund the organisation: the fans.

But the chief principle of banana-ism is surely kleptocracy, whereby those in positions of power and influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it, once again: the fans.

The ‘Republic’ makes sure that the trappings of accountability and democracy are left intact. In FIFA, a President, elected by a Congress, is joined by a General Secretary. This seems accountable, democratic, and almost state-like, but let’s look a little deeper at the structure. The Congress meets in ordinary assembly once a year, though extraordinary sessions may be called by the President, who also chairs what is called the Executive Committee, a sort of Cabinet to the Congress, and that Committee forms the main decision-making body. Thus, the overall structure is very much top-down from the President and not bottom-up from the Congress (let alone the fans or players themselves). The one principle that must not operate is accountability.

A case in point is the reigning President, Sepp Blatter, who was recently elected unopposed for the fourth time since first taking up the role in 1998. It’s the sort of record that Mugabe, Nguema , or Lukashenko might be proud of. In the most recent vote held last week, Mohammed bin Hammam, who played a key role in securing the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, withdrew as a candidate after being accused of bribing 25 FIFA officials to vote for his candidacy. Soon after, FIFA suspended bin Hammam and its own Vice-President Jack Warner from all involvement in the game. Remember: the structure within FIFA means that not a lot can happen within without the President’s blessing. Blatter then had a free ride to victory.

So, did Qatar buy its right to host the 2022 tournament? Is FIFA selling the right to host events as well as positions within its own structure? Secretary General Jerome Valcke issued a statement denying it was bribery that brought about the astounding result, but rather that the country had merely “used its financial muscle to lobby for support.” And so FIFA is now establishing its own lexicon of euphemisms.

Banana Republics do not open themselves up to any sort of external auditing, for the obvious reason that the numbers would not add up and heads would inevitably have to roll. However, and probably in an attempt to maintain or establish a veneer of accountability, they are often wont to some form of voluntary regulation. This is, if not always then more often than not, fundamentally flawed from the beginning because the institution being regulated can opt in or out of supervision. The fact that FIFA has now established such a body diminishes the perceived mandate of the program and weakens its effectiveness.

Heads will not roll, corruption will continue, and something is rotten in the state of association football. A money class creates and then fleeces the system while the very trunk of the game is permitted to rot. Mix that with kleptocracy and the sale of central positions and bang! You’re a banana republic.

My hero, Romeo Dallaire

June 3rd, 2011

I have recently finished watching a superb documentary, ‘Ghosts of Rwanda’, about that nation’s repulsive genocide of 1994. In recent years, the US government — as well as those of Britain and France, among others — has publicly declared its regret that more was not done to prevent the attempted eradication of the Tutsis or reduce the human loss. The UN and its Secretary-General of the time, Kofi Annan, have made similar remarks.

Kofi Annan is from Ghana, a country that I have worked in and is very dear to me, and the UN’s spectacular ineptitude during the mass killings — including reducing their force when General Romeo Dallaire asked for backup — does not reflect well on the organisation or Annan.

However, I learned something new from the documentary. While other countries — including the US which, under the Clinton administration, was loathe to enter Africa after the Somalia debacle of 1992 and publicly stated so — were commiting to not providing troops for the UN mission, the two main countries that did stick around and provide the lion’s share of troops were Ghana and Canada. (This is discussed in part 6 of the above link, from around 4.00 to 6.00).

Dallaire, the beleagured Canadian General in charge of the UN mission, states that he said to Ghanaian General Henry Kwami Anyidoho, “Henry, they want us out. We’ve failed in the mission. We’ve failed in attempting to convince… We’ve failed the Rwandans. We are going to run and cut the losses; that’s what they want us to do.” ‘They’ in this sentence can only be construed as the UN people at headquarters in New York.

Anyidoho said No.

“We haven’t failed, and as commanders we are going to sit here, work hard and see to its solution. So let’s tell those people back in New York that we do not think the mission should be closed.”

800,000 people are thought to have died in 100 days of genocide in an area smaller than the US state of Maryland — targeted killings without mercy in an attempt to wipe out Tutsis. The UN force, under Canadian command with a large chunk of Ghanaian troops, have been widely credited with keeping that number below the million mark.

While other governments, Western and African, were running away from Rwanda as genocide was beginning, it is no surprise to me, having lived and worked in both, that the two Generals who decided to stay were from Ghana and Canada, respectively.

And the relationship extends into our present millenium. When the Vancouver Canucks made it into the Stanley Cup Final last week — that’s the final of the (Ice) Hockey season, for your information — these Ghanaian children gave their support to Canada’s team.

Beautiful. Honest. Relevant.

Why Obama went to Ireland

May 27th, 2011

Between the 19th of May and the 26th, US President Barack Obama went from a rather public falling out with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to toasting Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster. In between, he managed a quick visit to Ireland. It is time to reflect.

sober (adj.):  1. not affected by alcohol; not drunk. 2. serious, sensible, and solemn.

It is unlikely that, in the history of Ireland, the presence of one person on the island for half a day created so many column inches, and Barack Obama’s visit this week – arriving after sunrise and leaving before sunset – went as close to perfectly as both nations’ governments could have hoped. But there was a corporate bounce to boot, most notably for Guinness and the company that owns the black stuff, Diageo, who could not have dreamed of the kind of PR that Obama gave them through images like this one.

The most popular and iconic political leader across the globe was in Ireland drinking with his wife while cracking jokes and seemingly genuinely enjoying himself. For the Irish, this was an almost drug-like occurrence. A natural high, an unpolished euphoria, and maybe even some jobs, somehow, somewhere, would come out of it.

Within a matter of hours, the news arrived that Guinness and Diageo are going to cut jobs in Ireland. People had every right to be ecstatic while President Obama was in town, but only while he was in town. If they still felt high after he left, they ought to notice now that most of it was hallucinogenic. Jobs continue to be lost, notwithstanding the mother of all PR boosts.

And was it not slightly odd, ironic even, that Obama delivered his magnificent speech in Dublin in front of the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, a bank to which most people in attendance share in having given billions of euro in rescue packages? Was this message of hope not delivered before a symbol of Ireland’s recent failures?

offset (v): 1. counteract (something) by having an equal and opposite force or effect.

It is pretty much accepted by all in the know that President Obama did not just have an Irish audience in mind as he was in Ireland. Rather, his primary concern was likely how the visit was perceived by voters back home in the States. All politics is local, and if it isn’t, most of it is.

A few days previously, Obama had mentioned “1967”, “borders” and “Israel” in the same speech. This was bold. Not ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done’ bold, but more ‘put on your seatbelt, I’m about to go over the speed limit’ bold. In doing so, however, he managed to annoy a large swathe of American voters and the influential AIPAC group.

There will be an election next year, a contest in which Obama has already declared he will run. Obama’s folksy persona in Ireland may stand him in good stead with a fraction of voters. The dots are easy to connect.

The Liberal Party of Canada and Fianna Fáil

May 18th, 2011

This spring that we are soon to exit from has been buttressed by two elections; firstly, in the land of my birth and family, Ireland; more recently, in the land where I now reside, Canada. To borrow Francis Fukuyama’s oft-used phrase, both of these elections were viewed, to some extent, as “The End of History” – moments in which institutions that were regarded (and more tellingly, regarded themselves) as part of the political furniture in their respective states were vanquished.

Around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fukuyama wrote that the advent and perceived success of Western liberal democracy might well signal the end of humanity’s sociocultural and geopolitical evolution. Things have not panned out exactly like that, with the post-9/11 decade signalling that history is not about to reach its conclusion without some unexpected hiccups.

The Irish and Canadian elections of this spring saw two parties – Fianna Fáil and the Liberal Party, respectively – humbled beyond what their most vicious nightmares might have foretold. Their hubris was to believe, within their individual states, that they had reached the end of history and had become their nations’ natural governing parties. The Liberals even went so far using “natural governing party” as a synonym for themselves, but the party was reduced to 34 seats in a 308-seat legislature two weeks ago. That’s not the work of a natural governing party.

The most commonly used translation of Fianna Fáil – Soldiers of Destiny – reveals an intrinsic sense of self-worth and belief in manifest destiny within the organisation from the outset. Pride is an essential component of any successful party, but there is a fine line between pride and hubris.

Fianna Fáil and the Liberals both more or less occupied, or attempted to occupy, the political centre within two-and-a-half party systems. Ireland might legitimately be seen as more innately conservative than Canada, which explains the generally more populist right agenda of Fianna Fáil. For the Liberals, the very word – then as now – is something of a blank canvass onto which individuals, political parties, nations and continents can paint a fresh meaning. In the United States, to be liberal is to be firmly on the left. In most of Europe, to be liberal is to be a cheerleader for free market economics while holding progressive social views. In Australia, the conservative centre-right party is called the Liberal Party. When somebody asks, ‘are you liberal?’ I usually answer based on the origin of the person who asked the question.

And so Canada, with a population largely drawn from the old world but an address in the new one, got a chance to create a fresh liberalism, defining it positively as pragmatic centrism with a liberal (excuse the pun) glazing of diplomacy abroad and help for the needy at home, and negatively as ‘not conservative’. The modern mistake of the party comes in two parts: believing that its domination of the 1990s was because it was loved and believing that pragmatic centrism, as defined above, was the permanent will of the majority of Canadians. Now, with a Liberal Party based in the East of the country (12 of the 34 Liberal MPs take their mandate from the smaller Atlantic Provinces) and a conservative government whose strength lies in Ontario and the West, the Liberal Party is also geographically removed from the Canadian centre.

After the 2002 and 2007 elections, Fianna Fáil gave the impression that it believed its version of liberalism was here to stay. Immediately after the 2007 election, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern entered RTE TV studios and essentially stated that the party was now the natural choice for Irish people. And to some extent, he was correct, but the folly was to consider this to be a permanent state of affairs. Fianna Fáil, along with the Catholic Church and the Gaelic Athletic Association, completed a trifecta of loyalties that largely defined twentieth century Ireland. They will not define the twenty first.

And neither will the Liberals, unless they stop tweaking things at the top and think fundamentally about how to become a governing party again, and not necessarily a “natural” one. The roles have been reversed since the consolidation of conservative forces in 2003 and the rise of the NDP in 2011, perhaps making the Conservatives – if anybody has a claim to the title – the natural governing party.

Bin Laden and Hannibal

May 10th, 2011

Did you ever hear the one about the man who smashed a herd of elephants into two skyscrapers? Or the one about the man who flew a fleet of aircraft through the Alps over two millennia ago?

Of course you didn’t, because these are two impossible actions. If we do a little switch around though and talk about the man who flew commercial aircraft into some of the most iconic buildings in history and the man who marched a herd of elephants across a huge frozen mountain range, one immediately knows what and who we are discussing.

The people of Rome and the United States had not considered these feats in advance, as daring, destructive and outrageous as they were. The hours upon hours of amateur video footage from downtown Manhattan on the morning of 9/11 shows people – most of them suited up and commuting to work – standing there watching, trying to figure out the fleetness of events in the world that was now surrounding them; trying to get information while trying to avoid getting information, simply because the reality was so utterly shocking. The most natural reaction – standing with a gaping open mouth – was the most telling.

Bringing elephants over the Alps was not so much a military manoeuvre as it was a propaganda one; it is often forgotten that most of the animals perished on the journey. It did, however, create an aura of invincibility around the man who made it happen and, perhaps for the first time, a national feeling of weakness in Rome. What Hannibal and Osama Bin Laden did was find their enemy’s kryptonite, but that is just the beginning of the extraordinary similarity in their stories.

The Roman Senate rallied after the disastrous battle of Cannae and appointed a dictator (under the Republican constitution, temporary dictators could be appointed in times of national emergency), Fabius Maximus, while the American public gave a massive boost to President George W. Bush’s approval ratings and a renewed mandate in 2004. Both of these mandates were given largely for those leaders to go after public enemy number one: for the Romans, Hannibal; for the Americans, Bin Laden.

Hannibal was in Italy for 15 years. After a series of early victories – leaving parts of the peninsula mass graves of Roman bodies – his campaign stagnated, resulting in retreat. Bin Laden did not personally invade U.S. territory so much as occupy the public consciousness and define American foreign policy around him for a decade. Both men loved being wanted, perhaps even hated, and both became not just political and military leaders, but also brand names.

Death was always so close. Imagine knowing that, of all the people in the world, you are most likely the person who most people would wish departed. The remarkable thing was how they managed to hang around for so long and, perhaps more astonishingly, how surprised people were when news got to them that their nemesis or hero was no more.

Rome believed that the war against Hannibal and the war against Carthage were one and the same thing – kill the man and you kill his quest – and in the early months of the Bush administration, the public relations campaign focused on that same idea. “We’re gonna smoke him out,” said the President. After Hannibal’s death it took half a century for Rome to finally win the war against Carthage, and any U.S. government, present or future, should note that.

Two men from the other side of the (known) world, living over two millennia apart, attacked a rising superpower where it did not think it might be attacked, in doing so creating a new kind of nationalism whereby the enemy united around their government and retaliated by going to the other side of the world to wage war. A bounty on both their heads and their faces and names etched into the consciousness of one and all. The assignment of blame for complex organised actions ultimately was placed upon one individual, and the initial aim of war was to get that individual, dead or alive. When they were found, it was someplace in the East and they were shown to be vain, paranoid, and ultimately human.

Montreal Four Months In; Ireland Four Months Out

May 5th, 2011

This is a list of 10 things I like about Montreal, Quebec and Canada and 10 things I miss about Dublin and Ireland. They are discussed alternately, beginning with something I like about this place. Let’s go…

 

Montreal/Canada: Pubs open ‘til 3am, even on a Sunday

“Have you no homes to go to… Can you finish up there please?” The usual GTFO call of barmen at about midnight where I grew up. When my cousin visited here, she left Toronto at about 6pm on a Sunday and set out on the six-hour drive. We still had time to meet up after midnight and get merry. With nobody forced to concentrate their drinking and socialising into narrower time periods, fewer people throw a load of alcohol into their bodies very quickly.

 

Dublin/Ireland: The Sea

Look, just look! Where I grew up, if I kicked a football from my garden gate it would – after a few hops and a little help from our friend gravity – end up in the salty goodness otherwise known as the sea. Obviously I never did kick a ball into the sea, at least not on purpose. Rivers are a poor substitute, especially when they’re frozen five months of the year. I miss the smell, the sounds and the visual beauty of the sea. And I miss swimming in it. The last time I enjoyed swimming in a river was in Ghana, almost two years ago.

 

Montreal/Canada: Integrated public transport at less than $3 a day

You have a card that cost $6, once off. You pay $72 per month or $22 per week to use four metro lines and all public municipal buses. That’s under $3 per day or around €2, cheaper than a single journey ticket from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin city on the DART. The LUAS lines in Dublin do not even meet up and you can’t buy integrated bus-rail tickets. The Montreal metro comes every five minutes or so except for the wee hours when it’s about every ten minutes. Did I mention it runs into the wee hours?

 

Dublin/Ireland: Living in a place where people like football

At the pub in which I work at weekends, the kitchen staff finish their preparation work at around 10.30am, leaving a good hour for us to sit and watch the football from England on the TV in the bar before opening. They don’t have much of a clue though. Say, for example, it’s Bolton versus West Brom, they might ask: “Is this Champions League?” Or maybe it’s Man Utd against some other lot: “So does Rooney score all the goals for Manchester?” I suppose I’m the same when I watch (Ice) Hockey, but I miss watching football with people who know what is going on.

 

Montreal/Canada: A walk in the country in the city

Montreal, as the name suggests, has a mountain (more like a large hill) smack bang in the middle of the city. My former housemate used to bring her skis on the walk to school in winter, and the walk up the south slope through the snow is a lot of fun. I can’t vouch for summer yet, but it seems like a perfect short hike to walk off a hangover. Few cities have such a wonderful natural amenity in their city centre.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Taking the piss out of each other

If one stereotype is true about Canada, it’s that people are nice. Frustratingly so. Let me make my point by way of anecdote. About two months ago I went to Quebec City with a friend that I had met for the first time three days previously. We had got along well but we both knew that there was a giant elephant in the room – neither of us actually knew each other much at all. When we got out of the car – a rideshare – my new friend went searching for his money in his bag. A slight panic set in when he could not find the $200 he swore he put in there before leaving. It was a large enough bag packed with loads of things and I had seen him put the money in there earlier, so I was sure he would ultimately find it. “Ha! Man, you are useless!” I said. What I was suggesting here by saying this was that I now felt comfortable enough in his presence to be able to take the micky out of him. It was me saying ‘we’re friends now’. Unfortunately, he took it as me being frustrated and nasty, meaning that I had to explain that in Ireland, friends spend their whole lives telling each other they are useless or fuckin’ eejits. Canadians do not do this.

 

Montreal/Canada: Respect for cyclists

450km of cycle paths. A public bike system with over 300 stations. Cyclists generally rule to roost here and, as a reluctant driver and four-time driving test failure, I think this is great. Now that the snow has disappeared I can get out and cycle to work and around the mountain.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Proportional representation

Ireland should not be held up as a beacon of leadership in how to compose a just electoral system, but this first-past-the-post thing over here is slightly ridiculous. Take for example this week’s federal election; a slight national shift to the left has resulted in a more solid right-wing government. How does this happen? The centrist Liberals lost ground to the centre-left NDP as well as some votes moving to the centre-right Tories. With vote splitting occurring between the Liberals and NDP, the Tories won more seats and a majority government without significantly increasing their vote. Counter intuitively, the Tories were delighted with a surge in support for their ideological opposite, and that’s just wrong. In Ireland the makeup of Parliament is proportionally closer to the will of the people.

 

Montreal/Canada: Classified ads

North America has realised before any part of the world that classified ads are now free to post and offer a new way of getting stuff done. If I need a lift (“ride”) to another city, it’s cheaper at short notice to get a rideshare from someone on craigslist than to get a bus from a bus company. And you can also buy THINGS. So far I have bought a lamp, a microwave and a teapot through classified ads, at a much reduced cost.

Dublin/Ireland: Playing football on grass, outdoors

With snow guaranteed to cover the ground for five or six months of the year (I just watched the weather forecast and there were snow warnings. In May.), football is played on synthetic surfaces, usually indoors. There seem to be no grass fields for football anywhere near the city. I suppose that, with land value being higher, having a piece of land redundant for half the year makes no sense. That said, I really do miss playing on soggy grass fields in Ireland. And old habits are dying hard; I’ve got cuts on my legs from slide tackling on synthetic grass. Indeed, going in for a slide tackle – one of my favourite things to do during a game – is seen as a bold move here that instantly gives the tackler a degree of respect among other players. ‘Watch out lads, this fella is prepared to bleed to get the ball back.’

 

Montreal/Canada: Tense political atmosphere being played out without violence

In case you did not know, about 40% of Quebecers want to separate from Canada. This is naturally a sensitive area and, unless invited into a conversation on the subject, I generally avoid the issue while in social settings. Comparisons with Ireland are made, and I have been asked how I can explain the perceived double standard of supporting an independent Ireland as well as Quebec’s continued role within Canada. Whatever the case, I’m just glad – if not a little impressed – that this tension is carried out on a political level through democratic means. The number of dead during “The Troubles” in Ireland is measured in the thousands. The last time that a politically-motivated death was directly due to Quebec’s constitutional status was in October, 1970, when a provincial cabinet minister was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ. I find it amazing that extreme violence has not resurfaced since then.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Dairy products

The butter here is tasteless and white-ish and the fat content of milk is measured in low percentage points, the highest being 3.25%. I miss fatty churned goodness.

 

Montreal/Canada: Choice of beer in bars

When it comes to booze, the Irish are probably the most unwaveringly loyal and conservative bunch in the world. Walk into a pub and you see Guinness, Smithwick’s, three or four very similar lagers and maybe, if you’re lucky, one other choice. The pub I work in here has something like 22 different beers on draught and the bottles we keep in the fridge are different to those available at the taps, making about 30 in all. This is standard. Most pubs will also stock some local beers as well as imports, and there is a healthy respect for micro-brewing that sadly does not exist back home.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Being able to use Irishisms with impunity

Ireland is more like a big family, more so than its inhabitants realise. Like the best friends or siblings that have in-jokes that nobody else gets (“we see things they’ll never see” /Live Forever – Noel Gallagher), Ireland is full of euphemisms and lines that cheer us all up from time to time. Towards the end of the winter here I trained with a local rugby team, ostensibly to keep fit, but really to try and make some friends. (The latter mission failed and, after going to a wedding in March, any fitness benefit was soon lost.) The men’s team trained after the women and, as is normal with a group of men, conversation came around to which (if any) of the ladies were attractive. “She has a nice ass,” said one of the Canadian lads and, like an unconscious reflex, I said “they all have lovely bottoms”. Perhaps they hadn’t seen Father Ted, and perhaps it’s no surprise I didn’t make great friends there. Another phrase I use more consistently is to ‘give out’ to someone, meaning to reprimand them. Here, among certain people to ‘give out’ means to pleasure someone orally. Oops.

 

Montreal/Canada: Gay marriage

I’m not going to get into my argument for gay marriage here because that’s an essay in itself. Suffice to say I support it, and passionately so. It’s not an issue here, because it exists. When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ireland. Take note, however, that this is not a Canada-wide thing. Same-sex marriage is only legal in Yukon, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Vive le Quebec.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Spring

It just arrives far too late here. Snow all through March and, as I said above, snow warnings for tonight. At least summer is meant to be longer, warmer and more reliable than Ireland.

Montreal/Canada: Music, shows, gigs

Young people go to gigs here en masse. And not to Justin Bieber or Coldplay, but to small gigs in dingy little places. People take each other’s recommendations and check stuff out. And it’s cheap. A lot of the stuff here at the moment seems to be electro and dubstep, a genre I can’t get into despite my best efforts, but there’s other stuff going on too. And lots of it.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Knowing where to go to get stuff

A haircut, for example. Anyone who has ever hung out with me knows that I like to take care of my hair. It’s my not-so-secret succumbing to vanity. A week before I went to my brother’s wedding in March, I went to get a haircut. Not knowing where to go, I went to a local barber. I asked him to use scissors and he ran a razor over me. I asked him to leave my sideburns and he cut them to the top of my ear. Then he ran a straight line across the back of my neck at the hairline with a raw blade. The cut was all wrong and, when I got home, one of my friends said ‘you need to find yourself a new barber.’ Two things came out of the ordeal: I took to wearing a hat and it was the only time I have not tipped for service since I got here. A few hours before returning to North America, I went to a barber in Limerick and asked for a rescue mission, which was successful (note: Johnny’s in Annacotty). I’m due a haircut very soon and am trying to find a place that won’t fuck it up. (Note #2: the place that DID fuck it up was ‘Athens’ on St Laurent, photo below.)

 

Montreal/Canada: Proper debate over healthcare

We’re too passive back home about the state of our health system. Canadians and Quebecers demand more and, with healthcare ultimately being a political issue, they usually get it. Fair play to them.

 

Dublin/Ireland: Tea, being offered tea, and being served tea in an appropriate fashion

I drink a lot of tea because it’s delicious. When you go into someone’s house in Ireland, you’re offered tea. This is one of our strongest and most brilliant national traits, and long may it continue. When I enter a home here, I might be offered juice or water. I want tea! Restaurants and pubs are worse; they serve you a vessel – sometimes a glass – of non-boiling water with a tea bag on the side. Two things: the water should be boiling and it should hit bag, not the other way around. Otherwise you have to squeeze the bag to within an inch of its life (figure of speech, people) for five minutes in order to get a weak cup of tea. When I was in Quebec City, I asked for tea in a cafe and was served green tea. ‘Do you have any black tea?’ I asked in French. ‘Earl Grey? Breakfast? Anything?’ Nope.

First Article in The Irish Times

April 25th, 2011

You may remember that a couple of the earliest posts on this site referred to an article I was asked to write by the Irish Times. Well, that article is in today’s Irish Times and also online here. It’s the first time I have been published in what I would consider to be a mass-selling newspaper or a paper “of record”. Given that it is now two-and-a-half months since submission, I am pleasantly surprised that this article saw light of day. They even used a snazzy photo of downtown Montreal taken from what I think is the south-facing slope of the mountain. Enjoy!

He was a working man, Great White North way, now he’s hit the big time in the USA

April 11th, 2011

“You’re it!”

“No, you’re it!”

I’m certain you remember playing tag or chasing back in the day, though these days I’m sure they have tag on Xbox. Adults can play too; you only have to see the accusations between Harper and Ignatieff that one and the other are “un-Canadian”. Conservative blogger ‘BC Blue’ gives the standard party line that Ignatieff ”lived the previous 34 years out of Canada before coming back just to be Prime Minister,” with the Liberal leader seen by many as some sort of Anglo-American rather than a pure Canadian. (And these slurs are often made by the same people who berate pure laine québécois for being ethnocentric and small-minded . . . pot, meet kettle).

A few days ago, Ignatieff himself accused the Harper/Conservative team of being “un-Canadian” following the removal of a woman from a Conservative rally in London, Ontario because she was found to have ‘liked’ the Liberal Party on Facebook.

All of this has triggered some thoughts and questions for me. Firstly, if I am an Irishman living in Canada, am I less Irish than if I spent these months and years in Ireland? This had never occured to me before. I don’t believe so, but perhaps in the eyes of others I have become less Irish. I find that kind of spooky. In case the insinuation here was not obvious enough, I don’t believe that Mr Ignatieff is any less or any more Canadian for having lived about half his life abroad.

Secondly, and slightly off topic, the whole issue has made me a realise a certain paradox going on south of the border. More conspicuous than charges of un-Canadianness (or maybe it’s because they say it louder), slurs of so-and-so being “un-American” are made so often it hurts, usually, but not always, spoken or written by those on the right against big government-progressive-liberal-commie-nazis, or whatever label they wish to throw up. The United States, land of the first amendment and Tom Paine. If someone says something “un-American”, this is by definition a contradiction in terms. In fact — and here’s your paradox — the only un-American thing that one can do is to accuse another of being un-American! It’s millions of Oedipuses all running amok with loudspeakers.

Moving back up North now, and Ignatieff would do well not to engage in charges of Harper, the Conservatives or anyone else being un-Canadian. It cheapens debate and brings him down to their level. It’s not un-Canadian, it’s just uncool.