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Ask not what Art can do for your country. Ask rather what Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have done to your country.

“What art does,” wrote Jeanette Winterson, “is to coax us away from the mechanical and towards the miraculous.” Which is exactly the opposite to the austerity Ireland project.

Rather than asking what good is art, and is it worth funding, it might be wiser to ask, What good are Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, and are they worth funding? What good do either of them do in return for the vast sums of public investment in them both? Let’s explore this question together.

The public invest millions in their TD’s and Ministers, providing them with private cars and drivers, offices and secretarial services, second homes, travel expenses, working lunches, and footing the bill in the Dail bar, and every other bar they deign to frequent, with drinks for the house in great flashes of public money, and foreign trips on mysterious errands to  faraway places, with secret companions stowed away, bikinis at the ready, and double pensions too for later life comforts, along with health and dental, and the freedom of all the towns and cities to beam richly around the place like stars of the silver screen.

But what good do they actually do? Let’s take Fianna Fail. Well, they broke the country and left the public with a bill that properly belonged to a band of outlaw bankers, speculators and developers. So it’s difficult to spin that one into a public good, no matter how hard you might spin it. That’s definitely a blot on the jotter. If an artist did that, their grant would be revoked, pronto.

So, as the public have done many times before, when Fianna Fail wrecked the country, the public invested in Fine Gael for a change. Gave them the offices, the cars, the secretaries, the tabs in the bar, the restaurants, the foreign holiday breaks, the dental, the mental and the health, the whole shebang, and the pensions too, to boot. Whatever you might say against the Irish public, you can’t say they’re not not generous to their politicians.

So Fine Gael took the job, Enda climbing into the cockpit with a smirk, and they said they’d work out all the problems caused by Fianna Fail, and then they immediately went selling all the public utilities, and charged the public twice and sometimes three times for the same services, put citizens working for nothing for their business buddies, drove the young to emigration and suicide and accused the public of being the architects of their own poverty for living too well during the boom – and this from people who cost almost a million a year of public money to run – and if they’d had a salt mine handy, the public would be all working down there now on bread and water rations.

So, that’s not such a great advertisement for a democratic job well done on the part of Fine Gael. You can’t really spin that one into seeming like a success story either. And now the new lot are shaping to be just as bad, if not worse, as everything that went before. They started bad, arriving 70 days late for work. 70 days late for work! And no reprimand. But burning up expenses just the same. They were already deep in hock before they started disctating to their secrateries and planning their foreign trips.

So, really, we have to ask, are Fianna Fail and Fine Gael worth the investment? Not just of money. But of time, energy and above all heartache? It is clear that neither of them actually produce anything of worth, and never really have. In fact, the opposite is true. The combined damage both parties have inflicted on the country are on a par with some kind of James Bond supervillain who managed to beat Bond for once. A supervillain plot plan to wreck the country could not have been more successful than the destruction perpetrated by the combined efforts of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. And that was when they were working against one another. Now they’re working together, don’t be too surprised if Ireland suddenly tips over and slides into the sea. And they’re so expensive to keep! The pair of them. They’re like pets in that respect. Except pets are generally likeable and exude love as part of the human/pet pact.

So let’s not ask about Art and is it worth a relatively modest investment of public money. Of course it is. It is self-evident. Let’s ask about Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and are they worth the huge costs in public investment? I have to say, I can’t see the return on the investment. And they certainly don’t cut it as pets. Far too vicious.

Michael D meme

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Angels, Ages and Epiphanies on the Bus to Town

I’ve been reading Adam Gopnik’s Angel’s and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln and Modern Life. I got it going in a flurry and then slowed down as I looked at other things, but I kept coming back to it and it has become a part of my life over the last few months.

The book looks at the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, with particular focus on their writing styles and how their times informed their thoughts. The title refers to a dispute about the epitaph uttered by Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, at the moment Lincoln passed away. Gopnik describes the scene as everyone waits for Stanton to speak first, because he seemed like the natural choice to say something. The guy taking notes, so anxious to write down what Stanton said, broke the lead of his pencil in his haste, panicked, and wasn’t quite sure what he had heard. The same went for other people present, likely distracted by the buffoonish note-taker.

So there was confusion as to what exactly Stanton had said. Had he said “He belongs to the ages now,” or “He belongs to the angels now.” Gopnik goes deeply into this question, exploring all possibilities and the journey takes him into larger questions concerning that time and this time and history and perception and writing, among other things. It’s fascinating. I got back to it today and back to a discussion I had sneaked away from about Darwin’s admiration for earthworms. For Darwin the worms made the world. My epiphany came after a morning’s work on something I’ve been writing and I found that if I took my time and just came back to stories over time as I felt like it, instead of trying to finish as quickly as possible, like they were products for market, I felt happier in myself and the work improved too.
Prior to this I had been searching for the holy grail of writing: completing the perfect thing in one sitting. It rarely happens. It can happen, but in general, works are developed over time and they are all the better for it. Leonard Cohen said he was writing verses for Hallelujah over a period of ten years or so, and this is not unusual for him. Most of his songs and poems are written in this way. As he said, some of them wither and get forgotten and others keep developing.

So I’m on the bus to town and I’m reading Gopnik and and he’s talking about how the God question was never a big deal to Darwin, as it was to others of his time. Because the God question claimed that God the creator upped and created the perfect eye, whereas Darwin knew that the perfect eye evolved from a series of less perfect eyes. The ideal form created in small increments of improvement over time.

Lincoln jpeg

What we need here is an investment of fresh prisoners.

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We here in Ireland enjoy an advantage in being able to assess the effects of particular trends in Britain, with a two or three-year time lapse before they land here. The advantage of foresight we enjoy by looking at developments in social policy in the United States can be counted in the decades. A story that recently emerged from New Mexico contains a salutary warning for us here in Ireland in our current blind rush into the privatization of public services.

Last week (Aug 2017), an article about a US detention services provider called CoreCivic, (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the second largest private prison operator in the United States, described how the company found itself short of prisoners at one its facilities in Torrance County, New Mexico, after legislative reforms began to dry up the supply of convicts coming on stream. The company were demanding that the government come up with 300 prisoners within 60 days, or it would close the facility, resulting in 200 job losses.

The company, which has been providing prison services in the area for almost 30 years, and which has been repeatedly sued for various offences, including “sexual harassment, sexual assault, deaths, use of force, physical assaults, medical care injuries and civil rights violations,” is now essentially holding the government to ransom to provide prisoners for its private prison system.

While looking into that story, I came across this article from France, that more than concurs with the thrust of my suspicions concerning the puzzling “criminal” question that was put to Irish Jobseekers in November 2015, as reported in the Irish Sun. (I know, not exactly the paper of “record”.) I hypothesized a scenario that showed there might be a profit motive in casting the unemployed as criminal, which I explored in my article “The Investment Potential of Criminalizing the Poor.”

The French article begins:

“More than a third of prisons in France are partly run by private companies. The trend towards privatizing the prison system, which began three decades ago, is gaining in momentum. A handful of companies are capitalizing on this very lucrative market, providing services that include catering, receiving visitors, building detention facilities and organizing prison labour…”

The French, as the article shows, currently pay almost €6 billion a year to private contractors for such services.

Both Working links and Seetec have strong backgrounds in detention services, through contracts with Sodexo Justice Services, which provides prison services around the world, including the 34 French prisons mentioned in the article quoted. Rehabilitation services was the main business of both companies awarded the JobPath contracts in Ireland, which may explain the tone and attitude of the JobPath service, where unemployed people are treated as “guilty” of being unemployed and in need of rehabilitation, in an atmosphere with more than a whiff of incarceration about it.

With all the signing in and out, the policing of time, the questioning of character and integrity, the deliberate parole officer style relationship, it is as if the main thrust of the JobPath model is in grooming Jobseekers into becoming accustomed to prison-like protocols. This is not quite the “training” that many people might regard as being conducive to the development of grassroots entrepreneurial zeal.

An entrepreneurial spirit that might, if it were cultivated and invested in, help lift the economy with local enterprise, rather than us always having to depend solely on the Big Apple’s of the world to hire us as poor, hapless economic eejits.

Instead, we fund a system apparently deliberately designed to destroy self-motivation and personal initiative, in order to create people in need of “help” and “rehabilitation”, who can then be serviced by private corporate interests in exchange for public funds collected and set aside by the community for the provision of social protection.

The model is a kind of economic vampirism, and may, for you lit students out there, cast some light on the sudden popularity of vampires in recent decades that, as far as I can tell, appears to have originated in the US. Could be a decent subject for a thesis: is there a relationship between the trajectory of blue-collar wage cuts and the rise in popularity of vampire fiction?

In New Mexico, a spoksperson for CoreCivic said, “The city of Estancia and the surrounding community have been a great partner to CoreCivic for the last 27 years . . . a declining detainee population in general has forced us to make difficult decisions in order to maximize utilization of our resources.”

That quote encapsulates an aspect of the approach I remarked upon in Part Four of the JobPath series : the gaining of public approval for the private company’s operations. Here the community are described as a “great partner” in the system. The other part of the concept, gaining the “agreement” of the subjects to participate in the system, in the case of JobPath this was acquired by coercion, as shown in Part 5 in the series, has long since evolved in the US system into simple management of prison populations, with stringent Federal legislation, such as the three strikes law, providing plenty of raw material to the private prisons system.

Ironically, it was as a result of reforms in the justice system in the Obama era, that the supply of “raw material” to the private prisons began to dry up, leaving the private company in New Mexico having to make “difficult decisions” to ensure its own economic survival. Difficult decisions like, blackmailing Torrance County to provide them with more prisoners, threatening job losses for failure to comply.

Journalist Steven Rosenfeld, who wrote the article, writes, “This is a perfect snapshot of what’s upside-down with privatization: the lack of economic opportunities and politicians who genuflect at providing jobs, regardless of the larger social implications, pushing law enforcement into the dirty business of ramping up arrests and convictions so private firms and shareholders can make more money.”

The town of Estancia, New Mexico, now finds itself in a dilemma. If it does not come up with 300 fresh prisoners for the private company, the company will close the facility as unprofitable. If this happens, the town will lose 200 jobs and an estimated $700,000 annually in commerce, while the surrounding Torrance County would lose $300,000 dollars in tax revenues, and will also be left with the problem of accommodating the 700 Federal prisoners that the private facility currently caters for.

Torrance County, New Mexico, desperately needs an “investment” of 300 fresh prisoners.