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Farewell Martin McGuinness

So farewell then Martin. Your health seems to be letting you down and you’ve finally got tired of the DUP trying to turn Northern Ireland into  Protestant state for a Protestant people all over again. Small blame to you.  I guess your illness means you won’t be running for office again and that your political future, if you have one, will be to play the elder statesman in SF. No formal job but loads of influence, something like the role of Felipe González in the PSOE in Spain.

But maybe you’re for the high jump soon; we don’t know exactly what’s ailing you so it’s impossible to say. It’s been quite a life, you’ve had, no? You stood up for your people when it was extraordinarily difficult and dangerous to do so and were recognized a leader by all who came into contact with you. 22 was quite an age to be flown to London to negotiate with the Brits.

You kept faith with the armed struggle for far too long though and you countenanced horrible sectarian massacres. Unlike some others you did eventually see that it was  all leading nowhere, that it was impossible to impose sufficient costs on the Brits to make them rethink  their support for the Unionists and that the Unionists were not going to have their minds changed by killing any number of off duty UDR corporals. Some can’t get those facts into their heads even today.

There’d have been no durable ceasefire and no GFA without your personal credibility among the nationalist people to back it. And the devolved administration in NI wouldn’t have lasted until now without your pragmatic approach and personal humility, characteristics lacking in another top Republican whose name I won’t mention.

You probably won’t thank me for saying this but you remind me a lot of Arik Sharon: man of war and man peace, responsible for both foul and noble deeds, loved by (most of) your people and despised by those who’d like to see them go back to their previous condition of servitude.

So get well soon, and enjoy whatever time’s left to you.


Prediction for 2017, Number 2

 This one really should have happened this year but long delays in forming governments in Madrid and Barcelona put it back. The traditional bourgeois nationalists in Barcelona have hitched their wagon to the ultra-left and irredentist CUP. The latter are determined to force a decisive break with Madrid in 2017. The idea is to have a referendum on independence and to start setting up the institutions of an independent state. The government in Madrid has already initiated legal measures to stop this. The CUP is betting on a confrontation with the Spanish state involving the imprisonment of Catalan nationalist politicians who disobey the courts, mass demonstrations to secure their liberty and a good deal of public disorder; in the last analysis to expose what they see as the fundamentally oppressive nature of what see as “Spanish rule” in Catalonia. I would not be completely surprised if all this leads to people getting killed. Recall that leaders of the CUP shamelessly describe themselves as “the Kurds of Spain” and the like. Of course there’s no real chance of the push for independence succeeding, the government in Madrid has all the necessary powers and resources to stop it. But things might well get messy this year.

Prediction for 2017, Number 1

Motorway pile up Brexit. The Brits will fuck us over on the CTA and the GFA, not because they are bad or hate us (mainly) but because they have no fucking idea what they are doing and imagine we’ll just say “ah, sure that’ll be grand your honour” to whatever madcap scheme they propose.

Una conversación acerca del CONICET

¿Alguna vez se discutió el número exacto de investigadores que se necesita en cada área de las ciencias y humanidades en Argentina?
“¿Cómo se te ocurre pensar en términos de ‘necesitar’? Argentina necesita todos los investigadores que se puedan formar en todas las áreas para poder desarrollarse como nación y atender las necesidades de su gente, ¿no es una obviedad acaso?
Ok, ¿Cómo funciona eso exactamente?
“Tu pregunta es el reflejo de una mentalidad colonizada por el neoliberalismo….”
Claro, entonces no podemos ni siquiera hacer una estimación aproximada de lo que el país necesita. Solo hay que formar más y más investigadores y confiar en que de una u otra forma esto contribuye al bien común. Cualquier recorte que se haga en el número de investigadores que se nombran cada año está necesariamente mal.
“Bueno, yo no lo diría así pero si insistís, sí. En cualquier caso, si no permitimos que todos los investigadores debidamente cualificados que quieren hacer carrera lo hagan en el CONICET, se van a ir a trabajar afuera”
¿Y qué tendría de malo? Pueden tener oportunidades y hacer avances que no podrían hacer en Argentina. Podrían volver después y trabajar acá, y si son realmente brillantes lo que queremos es que trabajen con otra mentes brillantes para desarrollar todo su potencial, no? ¿O acaso imaginamos que en Argentina hay posibilidades de hacer investigación de avanzada en todas las áreas y en cualquier momento? Quizás deberíamos enfocarnos en las áreas en las que somos especialmente buenos y tratar de avanzar por ese lado…Se me ocurre, es solo una idea eh…
“Pero queremos que los investigadores argentinos trabajen para el desarrollo de Argentina, no el de Francia o EEUU.”
¿Y eso no sugiere la necesidad de algún tipo de cálculo de medios y objetivos acerca del número de investigadores que requiere cada área, los objetivos que deberían alcanzar en cada área de desarrollo del país, etc.? Digo, publicar X cantidad de papers por año está muy bien, pero ¿cuál es el beneficio que obtiene Argentina cuando los papers se escriben en La Plata en relación a si se esbriben en New York, Dublin o donde sea?
“Mirá, se doctoraron cientos y cientos de investigadores, y dado el contexto político de los últimos años, todos tenían expectativas razonables de entrar al CONICET y hacer carrera ahí. Ahora no les podemos decir ´perdón pero sabés qué, este año va a entrar menos gente’, sería injusto”.
La vida es injusta y las políticas de gobierno cambian, sobre todo en Argentina. Todos sabemos que la gente que se doctora en Argentina es de clase media, media alta y alta. Son personas que podrían haberse pagado sus estudios universitarios pero que no lo tuvieron que hacer porque la universidad en este país es gratuita. Van a estar bien. No creemos que lo único que se puede hacer con un doctorado es entrar al CONICET, no? ¿Y por qué jóvenes de clase media para arriba deberían tener derecho a una carrera garantizada en el CONICET si ya tienen título de posgrado? ¿No deberíamos empezar por dar prioridad, por ejemplo, al derecho a terminar la escuela primaria, antes que nada?
Enjuague y repita x 500

Cowboy Talk on Syria

1. Those fundamentally to blame for the slaughter in Syria are those carrying it out.
2. That said, Obama’s failure to punish Assad for the use of poison gas in 2013 gave a de facto green light for the killing to go right ahead and the Russians to double down on their involvement. He didn’t do it because he wanted to preserve the Iran nuclear negotiations.
3. Of course the US could have smashed Assad’s air force over the course of the conflict. It also possesses the wherewithal to impose a no-fly-zone over Syria. It could still do so now. The US military can project force on a far greater scale than the Russians.
4. However, neither course would have been free of risks or costs prior to the deepening of Russian involvement and the costs and risks involved would be much greater now.
5. Still, given the scale of the killing those costs and risks, even now would be worth accepting, provided those costs and risks were well understood by all parties beforehand.
6. Cowboy talk and cowboy ideas about how simple and low cost such an intervention might have been or might yet be open the way for disaster on an even greater scale.

The Future of Brexit Britain

  1. A considerable part of the UK press is attacking the judiciary in the vilest terms possible. The first edition of one of those attacks contained an anti-gay slur
  2. The leader of a party that got millions of votes at the last election is organizing a mass protest designed to intimidate the Supreme Court and  warning (i.e., threatening) violence if the Court hands down a decision he disagrees with.
  3. The government has only made the most tepid noises to defend the judiciary and has been flying anti-foreigner policy kites. Some of the PM’s comments at the last Conservative conference wouldn’t have looked out of place in a BNP manifesto a few years ago
  4. Blaming the presence of immigrants for the supposed ills of the country has long been popular of the right; now some parts of the Labour party have decided that it would be best to  more openly pander to voters’ prejudices in this regard. Some clever leftist writers have started writing columns which, their exquisitely careful wording notwithstanding, carry essentially the same message as the Daily Mail; there are too many foreigners among us and they lack essential moral qualities present in abundance among the native population.
  5. There is currently no effective opposition to the government in parliament. The leadership of the Labour party thinks liberal democracy is largely a sham.
  6. No one in government seems interested in the possible effects on the peace and government of NI of Brexit.
  7. The government seems determined to sharply reduce  the number of foreign students in UK universities
  8. So you’re not a judge, not gay, have a UK passport and don’t look foreign. Well don’t think that will  necessarily protect you. Do you perhaps have a non-British name? Be prepared for more careful checks on your identity. Are you Jewish? Well, the hard left has long had it in for you and the nativist right may soon feel able to start letting you know what it thinks your real identity is and just how much it values your “Leave” vote? Are you a first generation Brit? At this rate how long do you think you think you’ll continue to be regarded as “truly British”?
  9. When subsidies to keep multinationals in the country post-Brexit mean there’s even less money than now for social spending and the NHS, who do you think those affected are probably going to blame? When those at the bottom end of the labour market are even more lumpenised and atomised than they are now, who do you think they’ll vote for?
  10. It looks like generations of social liberalisation and economic progress is in danger. There’s currently no one on the left-liberal side of politics to defend it

Brexit, Antisemitism and Progressive Xenophobia

Contemporary antisemites are quick to produce their Jewish friends and may even be Jewish themselves. Progressive Brexit xenophobes welcome foreigners of their own class but are concerned about (what they see as) the negative effects on the “indigenous” working class of poor EU immigrants. The former see the ills of the world as being produced by runaway Jewish power, the latter (with regret) see the problems of the “indigenous” working class as caused by the presence of poor immigrants. Both have forgotten a lot of basic things we used to know and react with outrage to any suggestion their views might have racist effects.

Uber in Buenos Aires

Fearless prediction: when the first  Uber  passenger is robbed at gun/knife point (or worse) by an Uber driver the same people now celebrating its arrival in Buenos Aires will howl about the absence of state regulation of its activities.

Pablo Trapero and the Great Secret of Argentina

El Clan  is a  flawed movie in many respects: some incomprehensible music choices, poor political contextualization for non-Argentine viewers, confusing flashbacks (or forwards, who knows?? ) and much more besides.
However, it’s saved by the fact that it throws light  on the Great Secret of Argentina: the persistence of the deep state regardless of what government is in power (an amalgam of security forces, spies, elements of peronism, elements of the legal system; all working in collaboration with ordinary criminals) and it also hints at the pervasiveness of surveillance. 
Its other virtue is its treatment of the issue of class both in the way it satirizes the credulity and stupidity of the San Isidro  cheto, rugbier class and signals the tensions in its relations with those a couple of of rungs below them who feel entitled to the same privileges but know they will never enjoy them.

The Wrong Reactions to the Slaughter in Paris

After the horror of Paris on Friday night some very mistaken ideas have been going around on social media and the public prints. An attempt to rebut a few of them:

  1. “The French are refusing are refusing to call the problem by its real name, and that name is Islamist extremism”. Valls and Hollande have been referring to “jihadism” for some considerable time. Hollande did so in his speech yesterday. Valls refuses to let the word Islamophobia pass his lips except to say the idea is nonsense. It’s pretty clear to what one is referring when one talks of jihadism, no? What would be the added value of saying that Islam is the problem?  None, as far as I can see and  doing so would bring with it the risk of alienating law-abiding Muslims in France to  no good purpose.  I am a cultural Roman Catholic –  indeed despite my atheism I don’t consider myself less Roman Catholic than any cardinal or bishop – and when I hear criticisms of Catholicism from non-Catholics they often cause me to bristle, even when I agree with their content. Quite irrational,  I know, but hey, humans. I imagine a similar effect being produced on law-abiding French Muslims when lectured at by diverse members of other faiths, agnostics and atheists on the ways in which their religion sucks. The only people who can solve the problems of Islam are Muslims themselves.
  2. “The French have no guts for a fight, they don’t really want to get stuck in to the problem”. First, allow me to quote something I said a few days ago here: “Just a quick reminder for the “France is all mouth and no trousers” types; were it not for the actions of the present government of France Mali would now be an Islamist state and there would likely have been a flood of non-Muslim Malians seeking refuge in neighbouring states. And, furthermore, it has thousands of troops deployed overseas, mainly in Francophone Africa, holding states together that would otherwise be tempting targets for Islamists. Also, its Air Force was poised to strike the Syrian regime in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons when clever clogs in the White House thought better of it at the last minute.” Secondly, what are the obvious and indeed qausi-magical measures that the French should be taking that would deal with the Islamist terrorism and that their lack of moral fiber prevents them from taking? Since Friday they have suspended the rights to free speech and free assembly and given the security forces the right to carry out warrantless searches. Hollande yesterday also announced the suspension of cuts in the size of the armed forces, more money for intelligence services and more recruitment for the cops and judiciary. These may or may not be the right measures but they do suggest that the situation is being taken with an appropriate level of seriousness.
  3. “France should follow Israel’s example, Israel knows how to deal with terrorism”. This is perhaps the dumbest criticism of all. Israel did indeed manage to crush the Second Intifada but there are one or two relevant differences. Palestinian residents of the West Bank are not Israeli citizens and don’t enjoy the protection of its laws (yes I know, they can eventually appeal to Israel’s courts against the actions of the IDF but it’s not the same as having the inalienable rights of citizens). Furthermore France doesn’t have the option of building a security fence around problematic residential areas. And in any case even in Israel terrorism continues to be a grave, ongoing problem that costs lives. Don’t get me started on the supposed special insight into the “Arab mind” possessed by Israelis.  A variant of this criticism is  that “Unit XYX of the Israeli military/police would have dealt with the situation in Paris on Friday night so much better than the French”. Well maybe but there’s really no way of knowing. I’m sure there’s things the French could learn from the Israelis on a technical level but the opposite is likely true as well and there’s no clever answer to four heavily armed suicide teams on the loose in your capital city on a Friday night. And Israel’s history isn’t exactly free of security force cock ups when dealing with terrorism. So good for Israel but let’s be realistic; assuming that what works for Israel will work everywhere else, well that’s just balls.

I’m growing increasingly convinced by the idea that European civilization may not be mentally  well equipped to deal with the rise of militant Islamism but to the extent that’s true there’s not much the present government of France can do about it.  Its efforts to fight terrorism deserve our support, our critical support for sure, but the bottom line has to be support.

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