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Monthly Archives: July 2018

There is a troubling misunderstanding at the core of the current health controversy. Be certain: The screening tests do not give a diagnosis of cancer or an “all clear”; they deal in probability and risk. The misunderstanding, however, is allowed to rumble on and on.

Way back when the then Head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, made the matter absolutely clear before a Dáil committee, his interlocutor failed to explore it and went off on a rant, treating what had been said with dismissive contempt, as an excuse or possibly a lie. T.O’B. accused him of trying to spread a public panic. He could indeed have been trying to play to the gallery but it is more likely that he hadn’t a clue.

T.O’B. resigned shortly afterwards when the contents of a memo he received in 2016 were revealed. The memo is complex but has that same core: the tests do not deliver diagnoses. Moreover, it pointed out that if patients went to the media and journalists chose to run headlines and stories to the effect that “screening did not diagnose my cancer”, there would be public panic.

Now the worst kind of politician and journalist would be prepared knowingly to propagate and exploit a panic. The more likely problem is, however, far more serious. Presumption of innocence towards elected representatives and journalists suggests that they too are subject to the panic because they fail to understand or grasp the significance of what T.O’B. said at the Committee. They just don’t get the distinction between a test-marker and a diagnosis. Indeed they don’t get risk or probability but live in a binary world of certainty; in this instance that’s simply cancerous or all-clear and anything else is a failure of government to mind us.

This level of misunderstanding among citizens is a dreadful comment on Irish education but it is utterly unacceptable in a member of parliament or a journalist. It not only makes public discourse next to impossible but almost certainly makes health screening initiatives for the future at best

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That old saying is the point of agreement between no-deal Brexiteers like Jacob Rees Mogg and Ireland’s old “anti-austerity” campaigners. It’s basic to political fantasists and many revolutionaries that the welfare of today’s living, breathing citizens can be sacrificed for some gain in the remote future. It’s a view pushed by the well-off and secure who will not be greatly troubled by whatever happens in the intervening years, and are prepared to tell ordinary citizens the soothing authoritarian lie: don’t concern yourselves, it’ll be alright; we know what we’re doing.

JRM is telling the UK that Brexit will take 50 years to work out. When the Irish state had just three months’ money left to pay welfare recipients and state workers, Ireland’s anti-austerity “leaders” tried to convince citizens that they should tell our only lenders to keep their money and we’d manage somehow.

This is literally “sinn féin”: “ourselves alone”, insular, proud, self satisfied. Poor or prosperous? That doesn’t matter; it’s a question for the future.

The Workers Party has come out with a proposal effectively to make the MMR vaccine compulsory. They say that parents should be required to show proof of vaccination before their children can access a range of public institutions. Essentially they’re talking about schools.* Because of this, there may be a constitutional hurdle to be faced but if we are serious about health care, it is is the way to go. 

What’s the problem? Well, the Workers Party have just poked the anti-vax movement and the gates of hell may be opened because behind the antivaxers there is a huge constituency of nonsense – some of it dangerous. This ranges from supporters of the use of MMS who believe that bleach is a curative**, through libertarians and conspiracy nuts, on to the relatively benign world of healers and hoaxers – some receiving payment from medical insurers*** – homeopathists, reflexolologists, angel botherers, mediums etc. until you get to thousands like the woman I met recently who would prefer that her lovely old dog endure the pain of his arthritis on doses of turmeric rather than give him “toxic” anti-inflammatories “pushed” by Big-Pharma.

 

What the lot of them share is a rejection of science, reason and the establishment generally.

Let’s take the spotlight off the Workers Party and talk in general terms, It’s just about possible that a political party could support compulsory MMR vaccination without losing the entire woo/anti-establishment constituency. If, however, they took up the same position on HPV,† things could get difficult.

In terms of priority, what a party should look at and soon is MMS. Making, using, selling and advertising it in Ireland is illegal and there have been convictions.†† However, advocating its use is legal.††† Yes, there’s a question of freedom of expression but no one supports complete abandon; we have regulation re slander and libel, incitement etc. Restricting speech in favour of submitting a child to a bleach enema should be posssible, even popular.

Well, now that our party of reason has opened up the can of worms, will it have the courage to be consistent and tackle the other wrigglies? Here’s a list of actions falling short of outright bans: stopping the use of health insurance money to pay chancers, ensuring that homeopathic “remedies” carry a big label saying that they contain no active ingredient,‡ preventing chancers from “teaching” in school buildings under the guise of adult education, telling professional bodies who enjoy state recognition to ensure that members are not engaged in or supportive of bogus therapies/preparations, asking colleges and universities to investigate what was lacking in their courses that they produce graduates who believe in, practice or promote foolishness … That list could become very long.

An interesting political question is this: Are the Workers Party stopping at the MMR question and are they on their own or are there other parties willing to oppose chancers, liars, fakers and worse? The risk is the loss of the support of the thousands who now believe utter nonsense and reject the establishment. A second risk might be an exodus of party members or a split. The possible gain might be support among thinking people. Saying nothing, hiding away, hoping not to be asked to take a side as this enormous social gulf widens, that’s an option of course; it’s essentially a decision to move in the direction of irrelevance.

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*http://workersparty.ie/calls-for-mandatory-scheme-of-vaccinations-for-school-going-children-to-stem-whooping-cough-measles-outbreaks/

** https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/outlandish-therapies-exploit-families-of-autistic-children-1.3076647

*** I tried to tackle this in 2010: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/alternative-health-insurance-well-pay-for-anything/

https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/schoolprog/hpv/hpv-vaccination-programme/

†† https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0215/941028-bleach/

††† https://www.rte.ie/news/player/2015/0514/20780390-report-on-a-cult-which-believes-that-industrial-strength-bleach-can-cure-autism/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/homeopathy-making-choice-meaningful/

The problem with internships is the number of them that are bogus. An internship is not a job nor is it work experience. Because of abuse and access it needs to be regulated and policed.

When the much maligned Jobsbridge scheme began in Ireland it was a vehicle both to encourage firms to offer internships and to stamp out abuse. Predictably, sections of the Irish left went off at half cock, lumped internship in with its abuses, and sought to bring the whole thing down rather than take a progressive stand, insist on rigorous weeding out of abuse and the involvement of working class young people in elusive internships.

Let’s face it: there is elitism in the concept of an intern. You see, there cannot possibly be an internship in a low or medium skilled job environment. That is to say, an intern on the floor of a supermarket or among forklift drivers is ridiculous and if it seems to appear, it is very clearly the contrivance of an exploitative chancer. An internship is a training programme in a – for want of a better word – professional work environment. The intern may perform some useful tasks but in no real sense are they employed or working. It most certainly is not work experience. Work experience programmes are real, useful and are not training; they are as the term perfectly describes.

So many bogus internships now exist that there are moves to stamp out the whole concept, to finish off what the opponents of Jobsbridge started. Yes, this course if successful will strike against exploitation but it will also abolish internships for those without family contacts and send internship into a priviliged underground with arrangements being made by Mammy and Daddy with their professional and business friends.

What is needed is a state supervised scheme in which all internships are required to be registered, and well intentioned businesses and other organisations are encouraged to participate. There are many such organisations and many people prepared to offer an internship – a real one – to a young person without family contacts. They’d be performing a public service, not creating a job. All but the chancer know the difference and when the chancer tries it on, the penalty should be swift and severe.

A state-supervised scheme, recognising and expanding access to internships? Sounds good, eh? But wait, we had the makings of that and we allowed an idiot fringe to destroy it, playing as usual into the hands of the rich and privileged.

 

* https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/una-mullally-unpaid-internships-threaten-all-workers-1.3572883#.W1VyGTlofWw.twitter

Fadó, fadó,* shortly after I got my first Flatcoat, we began gundog training, of which I knew absolutely nothing. What was blindingly obvious however was that apart from Grania’s Springers, Eddie’s Irish Water Spaniels and my Flatcoat, it was a world of Labradors. Having asked, I was told that no one bothered with other breeds because they were too difficult and took too long to train. Very early I heard the accepted wisdom expressed thus, “You can train 3 Labs and 5 Labs in the time it takes to train a Golden and a Flatcoat respectively.”

Clearly these people knew what they were doing; they competed in these trials and tests that I was hearing about for the first time. It was obvious that Labs were more suited to competitions; some young dogs were way ahead of my guy whose progress was slow but whose work was fast and very flashy. No problem for me; I was always likely to stick with flashy. Yep, I’d fallen for Flatcoats and there has never been a moment when I considered a change.

Over the decades I developed a remarkable record of failure in competitions (Don’t misunderstand me; I’ve had a wonderful time in good company and beautiful places.) and never questioned that the superiority of the Lab in competition was innate.

It is only very recently that I’ve developed doubts. Firstly, I’ve been seeing and training with a few late-developing Labs. Secondly, something crucial and significant was said to me that started me thinking: “If they’re not winning field trials by two years of age, get rid of them and get another.”

Now, I’d been aware of the age preoccupation for decades but because I’d opted for a “late maturing” breed, it was of no concern to me, and I didn’t expect my dogs to be remotely competitive until they were well over five.

Something should have stirred in me as judges almost always asked only about the age of the dog, competitors expressed themselves too embarrassed to compete at novice and preliminary levels with Labs over two – perhaps three – years old, and relatively few older ones competed even at open/advanced level.

Despite the mounting evidence, I hadn’t the slightest doubt in the old wisdom until those last seven words finally settled in, “… get rid of them and get another.”

Now, apart from my family refusing ever to speak to me again, I was never remotely likely “to move along” and replace an unsuccessful friend of mine. However, assume for a moment that I’m ambitious and prepared to be ruthless, cut my losses and bring in another pup, I still have a problem. Do you see where this is going? I couldn’t get another Flatcoat pup – especially from working lines – in a short time frame and if breeders knew that I was cutting my losses, they wouldn’t sell me a pup.**

I asked some friends who compete with minor breeds to think ruthlessly. They too immediately came up against the insurmountable problem of supply.

Right so here’s what I’m suggesting and there is no criticism implied: Labradors have come to be favoured because their success is highly visible and people want to emulate. However, that success rests on a less visible foundation.

You see, if a test/trial competitor is not happy with the progress of their young dog, starting afresh is a reasonably attractive option. They can try again pretty easily. They haven’t wasted a great deal of time and effort, and they can realise the value they’ve added to the dog they now reject, i.e. their partially trained dog is valuable and in demand.

The competitions also serve as quality control to a small industry, producing reliable gundogs from proven stock. For some at least this makes two years a commercial necessity.

Now clearly nothing I’ve said here supports any substantial change of mind about the desirability of Labs as trialling dogs. It is likely that the turnover of young dogs and the industry generally has led to very refined, working stock. However, that same facility layers-on the evidence that promotes two beliefs. Firstly, that apart from odd exceptions only Labs are worth taking to competition standard. Secondly, that once a Lab reaches, say, three years old and is not in the rosettes, it’s time to pack it in. The consequence will be to discourage competitors and potential competitors of two – one might think – types: i) those with minor breeds; and ii) those with Labradors whom they are not willing to move-on.

What’s to be done? Well, little or nothing really. Those who favour minor breeds will continue to do so. Because of the belief that their dogs are slow to mature, they will feel not the slightest embarrassment in entering older dogs in competition. If there is a problem at all, it is for Labrador owners and possibly the vitality of the sport which relies almost exclusively on Labs.

Consider someone attracted to the sport – possibly a young person – who does some research and acquires a Lab pup from proven working stock. They are really pleased with their new little friend and later doubly pleased when they join a training group and begin a working relationship. For a variety of reasons their Lab doesn’t make alarming progress but they’re still enjoying an occasional outing to run in preliminary level working tests or even a tilt at novice level – and slow progress is evident. Both are learning and having fun; there’s no problem – yet! At some stage the working retriever credo is put to them: “How old is that dog? Ah, you’ll achieve nothing with it now. Get rid of it and get another. Yeah, it may have FT Chs on both sides but that’s not a guarantee.”

It’s just as demoralising if the beginner gets the dog first as a pet and then tries to turn their hand to working it.

Occasionally a newcomer will follow the advice and go on to make up a FTCh with a later dog. Very rarely one will say “feck that for a game of soldiers” and continue to try. Most will pack it in.

Of course this doesn’t matter if the idea is to refine and confine numbers but if the idea is to increase participation, it matters.

Over the years I’ve seen late developing Labs whose progress is quite like that of the minor breeds. Moreover, shooting fields are graced by thousands of early rejects who have clearly come good with maturity.

Here’s the thought and let’s confine it to fairly good working stock: Now, if the early achievers among the Labs are excluded from consideration, would age of maturity and success in competition be very different from other breeds of retriever? I’m beginning to think not and I’m beginning to think that trainers, training groups and judges owe it to the sport to encourage those with Labs of two and three years of age – as long as there’s some sign of progress – to persist.

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* It’s the Irish equivalent of the traditional storyteller’s opening, “Long, long ago …”

** I’m aware of one breeder of working Labs who will not sell to a trialer for that reason.

 

The conflict between those who would normalise Sinn Fein and those who would not so much as socialise with a member of Sinn Fein is deep-seated. It turns on the question of something a great deal more basic than debate.

SF want to commemorate and celebrate the campaign waged by the provisional IRA. They see that as respecting their own dead, placing their narrative alongside others in telling the story of the troubles, and ensuring that the PIRA is seen as part of the longer tradition of violent Irish nationalism.

They do not accept that the PIRA’s campaign was exceptional. They want to liken it to earlier conflicts, specifically the insurrection of 1916 and the War of Independence.

When confronted by the thought that there are worse things in wars than the horrors of battle, that war crimes are a reality, they tend to have two responses. Firstly, they emphasise the old cliché that terrible things happen in war. Indeed they often condemn all wars. In other words, they deny the concept of a war crime and the need to consider it separately. Secondly, if they accept that war crimes exist, they argue that every party to every war is equally guilty.

The dispute here turns on i) what constitutes a war crime and ii) the extent to which war crimes featured in the conduct of a particular war.

Clearly the conduct of any war is a matter of selecting targets. Very few would quibble with the proposition that when civilians are selected as targets, an unambiguous war crime is committed. Even fewer would quibble with the suggestion that all wars have featured war crimes, the intentional targeting of civilians.

Nations like to commemorate, honour their war dead, their heroes. This is usually possible because the conduct of wars is ambiguous or the incidence of war crimes is sufficiently infrequent as to permit relatively civilised myth-making and public ceremony. That is to say, the war crimes – the targeting of civilians – can be condemned or quietly and shamefully hidden away so that the overall conduct of the war can be remembered as heroic or at least necessary. Thus Poppy Day can be celebrated while carpet bombing cities isn’t mentioned, the US knows that there can never be a Mai Lai Massacre Day and the Irish State knows that while there can be a commemoration of The War of Independence or the Civil War, that must not include detonating a bomb to which IRA prisoners had been chained.

It is stark and true that we all know about the horrors of war, the breakdown of civilised conventions, the cover it gives to do evil, the collaboration – cowardly if seeking advantage and understandable if seeking to survive. We know too about the heroes who would have no part in attacking civilians. Bluntly, we know damn well the difference between a war crime and a battle.

Because it was a campaign of war crimes punctuated by military engagements, the campaign of the Provisional IRA cannot be allowed these established, shamefaced distinctions and hair-splitting. For the most part, theirs was a campaign of assassinated civilians, “prisoners” tortured and their bodies dumped or secretly buried, “proxy bombs” in which a civilian was attached to a bomb and made to deliver it while his family was held hostage, and perhaps the most shameful and dishonest of them all: the public bombings.

They were shameful because they reduced civilians to mere messages (“The only thing the Brits understand!”) They were were also dishonest in their depravity. Think about what they did – time and again. They placed a bomb in a public place. Then by way of a warning, they gave their victims a “sporting chance” of escape. Subsequently, they expressed go-by-the-wall regret over the casualties (Irish and British) and said that it wouldn’t have happened if the authorities had acted more promptly on their warning or if the British were not occupying Ireland.

Thus the PIRA campaign of war crimes was a nasty episode in Irish history. Best forgotten completely? No! Let it serve as a warning that some Irish people can sink to the obscenities witnessed in so many countries. For that reason it must become part of our history, evidence that the Irish are capable of evil deeds. However, it most certainly should not become a part of us as one narrative among many. It cannot be commemorated with any suggestion of pride, let alone celebrated.

It might have been possible to put it to the backs of our minds and move on (We are constantly reminded that young people don’t remember the sordid PIRA targeting.) but Sinn Fein won’t allow that. They want it made normal that in today’s Ireland we tolerate the celebration of war crimes – worse, a campaign of war crimes.

In this they are usually facilitated by Irish journalism which hides behind conventional approaches to news and impartiality. Today SF speakers are passively granted a hearing. They state their views on public controversies of all kind as if they were an honoured part of our republic. This spineless and now established media approach is analogous to the effete silence faced by someone who habitually spouts vile nonsense. That is to say, otherwise decent people too often opt for a quiet life rather than confront a neighbour, friend or family member. In so doing they fail a basic test. A citizen of a republic has a responsibility to tell a blackguard that they ought to be ashamed of themselves and to do it day after day.

There’s a very longtime acquintance of mine, a man I admire. I know him through the Labour Party. He’s dependable, thoughtful, well read, a retired industrial worker and experienced shop steward. He’s more than a pollster’s or a sociologist’s category; he’s real working class and holds the values to prove it. He’s a socialist; he and the Labour Party are a natural fit but there’s something wrong these days.

I bumped into him in town recently. He’s great company and I was glad he suggested a pint.

He was bothered and thoughtful about a meeting he’d attended the previous evening. He feels left out and odd at party meetings. The discussions, he says, are too confined to gender, identity, management and liberal issues generally and when they refer to work and trade unionism, they go on about organising as if nothing much had happened in the last 30 years or so. (As for me, he says that I’m not much better, always on about inequality of income, republican citizenship, and the type of work – jobs – that he doesn’t recognise.)

He has no difficulty with any of the liberal, cultural, identity issues. They’ve always been there – part of the movement – and he’s always taken the progressive position. No, the problem is what has disappeared, and disappeared to the extent that he now seldom speaks at meetings because the things of his concern, expertise and experience don’t appear on agendas anymore.

There is no industry and industrial worker that he recognises, no factories. Yes, he would like a return to that way of life, when there was stability and the expectation that the next generation would come up a bit in the world. He is not, however, like those duped by Trump; he knows those jobs are now in low-pay countries or gone forever, designed and automated out of existence, no longer necessary.

What can I possibly say to him? We’re both working class and know the score. He took a route that ended in redundancy in his early fifties and apartment blocks on his factory site that once nurtured a whole community. I didn’t take a route at all, I just drifted, did alright and now talk about the changed world but without his profound sense of loss.

When we meet, we have two areas of common ground. Firstly, agreement that the trickle down economy with well paid, permanent, satisfying jobs is gone. What we have now is a small number of high-expertise jobs at the top end, a lot of low-skilled, poorly-paid, boring, insecure jobs at the other end and in the middle, yes, some – but not many – old-school, good jobs with new titles. It is a different expression of capitalism, of exploitation and of yawning inequality. It is a loss about which the party seldom, if ever, talks and in that silence ignores “old-Labour”, those who planned prudently for upward mobility. While patronising attention is often paid to the “left behind”, little consideration is given to those whose plans and aspirations have been thwarted by a change that has made jobs befitting their hard-won education very scarce indeed.* 

He likes and I like too Jack O’Connor’s and other trades unionists’ approach to improving standards, security and wages by way of labour reforms and collective bargaining but that doesn’t speak openly about the fact that so many good jobs are gone for good and what that means for society and socialism. It’s a hard position for a party that has so linked work and prosperity but that’s the very reason Labour cannot credibly avoid it. Discussing traditional labour responses to the new situation without regard to how we deal with the loss is a drift away from socialism. The most fundamental change in industrial society cannot be ignored.

Secondly, he can’t stand it when gougers are described as working class. He gets apoplectic over the screaming, foul-mouthed thuggery – some of it lead by upper class nits – that is too often presented as working class. He expects the Labour Party to talk about the working class. Like me, he sees his class as setting a standard for decent behaviour.** I express that a bit differently: that working class is characterised by a set of values and that is what Marx saw when he identified the agents of progress. ***

This is where our recent conversation got really interesting, agreed and controversial. What we edged close to was a sense that the Labour Party needs to help take back the meaning of working class, get it back from pollsters, patronising professionals and upper class dilletantes, and state it as a set of values. That’s not vague; it’s quite clear and most know exactly what we’re on about. Yes of course, it would take a book-length piece to spell out the markers of working class membership, to contrast it with markers of lumpen loutishness, and to tie the difference to a political programme but perhaps that’s not necessary. For now let’s just set down opposites – streotypes, if you like – and leave it at that because in truth anyone steeped in the labour movement knows the difference only too well but is normally too polite to draw attention to it.

A working class kid is reared neither to look up to nor down on anyone and never, ever to resort to crude abuse – and here’s a small, sharp identifier, an easy way to tell the difference these days: there is no chance whatsover that they would refer to someone as a “c*nt”.


Grave offence is taken when media label such conduct and abuse as working class. 


It’s time the Labour Party spoke up for the working class to prevent it being traduced by the media and to prevent its record, good name and historic role being tarnished by lumpen yobs.

 

 

 

* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/full-employment-in-this-century-will-be-different-as-work-befitting-educated-skilled-workers-grows-scarce/

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/working-class-has-meaning-it-should-not-be-twisted-misappropriated-or-trivialised/

*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/no-karl-marx-was-not-out-of-his-mind/