Pope Catholic Shock

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It’s weird how the Pope was fêted in the US almost as a left-wing radical, just because he doesn’t wholly approve of unbridled greed. People, he’s the Pope. He’s head of the vast thing, that does all the things.

I’m lost for words here. The one I did for the current Phoenix probably says it all.

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The Liberation Of Wall Street

The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...
Stop Protesting - If You Know What's Good For You

So Wall Street is no longer occupied; not by protesters at least. The encampment has been swept away on the – quite specious – grounds of health and safety. I’m a strong supporter of laws to protect innocent people, so it always angers me to see them abused. Taking something enacted for public benefit and repurposing it to oppress undermines the rule of law and draws democracy into disrepute.

To compound the dishonesty they were told that, this being nothing more than a cleaning, they would of course be welcome to return as soon as it was over.

Only… Don’t bring camping gear.

Whose health and safety anyway? The order cites that of local residents, the emergency services, and the protesters themselves. The former two you could understand if the encampment did present some sort of hazard. (It didn’t.) Those groups have little choice but to be in its proximity. But the protesters themselves? They’re being ordered to leave on the grounds that by assembling peacefully, they pose a health hazard to themselves.

One wonders what form of protest couldn’t be suppressed on such grounds. Leave the powers that be to get on with it. Resistance is bad for you.

St Patrick’s Day 2011

Ireland
Ireland without borders. Or weather.

Watching the St Patrick’s Day parade from Dublin on TV. Huge crowds, people of all ages from all parts of the world having heaps of innocent fun. Weird to think that just two days ago I was on that street, in a shop that sells what I will refer to only as apparel of an intimate nature. But that’s another story¹.

Some like to complain that the St Patrick’s Day parade has become Americanised. I have news for them; if anything it has become Irishised. There may be a lot of things about Ireland that have gone to America and come back strangely transformed. The Taoiseach spoke in the US yesterday wearing a green bow tie, something that would be unthinkable at home. The four-leaved clover you see everywhere these days is another case in point. That’s not an Irish emblem at all, simply a well-known symbol of luck because of its rarity. It’s become confused with the shamrock, presumably with the idea that it’s ‘even luckier’, but of course a four-leaved shamrock makes about as much sense symbolically as a five-legged muskrat.

The St Patrick’s Day parade however is no American version of an Irish tradition. It is an American tradition – and about as old a one as there is. They’ve been having them in New York for two hundred and fifty years, so it pre-dates even the US itself. It was begun by Irish soldiers in the British forces there, and became a tool for recruiting Irish colonists. So, not exactly the associations it has today… Shows you how mutable traditions really are.

So while celebrating St Patrick’s as a special day for Ireland has been traditional since mediaeval times, parading is a much later innovation, only becoming an official national thing as recently as 1931. Naturally Ireland’s own St Patrick’s Day parades were highly influenced by the much older US tradition, with expert American marching bands and cheerleaders frequently stars of the show.

Over recent years though it has been becoming more Irish. Today there are still the bands from overseas, but interspersed with them are arts groups from all over the country using floats, performance and giant puppets to tell chapters from a Roddy Doyle children’s story. Looks like a lot of fun at ground level. St Patrick’s Day parades may have begun as military marches, but it’s good to see them moving on.

  1. Which I am not telling.

Egypt Needs You

Sphinx CartoonIn 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.

The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.

What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.

These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.

We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.

Wikileaks Is Innocent

Some people dismiss the allegations against Julian Assange as trivial. I find that hard to stomach. Making someone do something sexual that they don’t want to do is never trivial. The idea that he is wanted over a breaking condom exists only in the minds of commentators who have waded too deep into rhetoric.

On the other hand, we should be clear that he has not been charged with rape. He has not been charged, in fact, with anything. He was wanted for questioning. There is some confusion about what this is in relation to, but this is partly because Swedish law doesn’t map neatly onto ours, partly because it is not so forthcoming with details of sexual crime allegations.

This has led to confusion and unfortunate speculation, because while on one hand it is pretty clear that the allegations do not amount to rape in Swedish law, on the other it seems that rape in Swedish law is defined exclusively as sexual assault with violence. If rumours are to be believed – and I should emphasise the ‘if’ – the main allegation concerns him continuing to have sex even though he knew a condom had broken. To my mind, yes, that is morally a form of rape. A lesser form perhaps than sex obtained by threats or by drugging someone or taking advantage of their being too drunk to know what they are doing, but unquestionably a case of making someone do something sexual that they didn’t want to do.

Whether it is something you could ever conceivably get a criminal conviction for, that is another question. So it’s true that some circumstances of this investigation look peculiar. But if the Swedish authorities seem to be pursuing him with an unusual level of diligence, one can hope this is because it’s unusual to have such allegations made against someone so in the public eye.

One must hope that.

Because whatever you think of the decisions Wikileaks has made about what to release to the media, it must be remembered that it does nothing illegal itself. If anyone is committing any crime – and again, that is another very big if and another difficult moral question – it is the insiders who leaked the material. Oh, and any American who reads it even after it’s been published – technically that is illegal. So the US Air Force has blocked the website of The Guardian, Columbia students have been warned that discussing the information could damage their careers. It seems to me that if Wikileaks is bringing about this sort of imbecilic institutional reaction, it is definitely doing something right.

Wikileaks is innocent. But I hope that Assange is guilty, or at least under well-founded suspicion. Why? Because the alternative – that sexual crime charges have been falsified against him in order to suppress a threat to US interests – would mean that Western civilisation is on fire and what’s left is not worth pissing on to save.