22 March 2015

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Hippos. They're big. Their large size is definitely not the result of steroids, just like rugby players. Definitely.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, 1st January, 2015
Yesterday two very different events captured the attention of the Irish public, not uniformly or equally, in fact quite the opposite. In Scotland an Irish sportsball team were sportsing with a Scottish sportsball team. If the Irish sportsballers sported harder than the Scottish sportsballers, and some French sportsballers sported hard enough against a group of English sportsballers, but not hard enough to actually win, then the Irish sportsballers would be given a replica of an actual trophy that the English sportsballers presumably wouldn't be given (because they didn't sports hard enough, I guess?).

In the end that's pretty much what happened, and once again sportsball saved our nation from all its woes, at least according to the media, not that they would admit we have any woes. In fact, our woes are basically Schrodinger's Woes, as in we never seem to have any according to the media except on those times when the Government (or sportsballers) do something that makes those non-existent woes go away.

At the same time as the sportsballing occupied the media, around 80,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin demanding an end to water charges. The media put the figure attending at "only" 30,000 or 40,000, the discrepancy arising possibly because all the journalists were in the pub at the time watching the sportsballing and lost count on their way to get another round in. My own position on water charges is complicated, while I actually agree with the idea of a metered water service to drive conservation (with a suitable free allowance before charges kick in), the way in which water charges have been brought in to the detriment of the general population while grossly benefiting the nation's Top Oligarch is simultaneously sickening and saddeningly unsurprising. If you have time to read it, Broadsheet have put together probably the most comprehensive timeline of everything that is rotten in this affair.

I think this one is called Bod. Or maybe Rog. Rodge, no, Podge maybe? I want to say, um, Sexton?
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, 1st January, 2015
The division between these two events is essentially Ireland at its core. On one hand you have a small ruling elite that dominate the political, developer and banking classes and would form the traditional audience for rugby. It is this sector that benefited the most during the Tiger years, even after the effects of the recession are considered the top 10% in Ireland still control 35% of all income. On the other side you have the majority of the Irish populace who, according to the Government's own figures, actually live with the threat of poverty (50.3% are 'at risk' of poverty if social welfare payments such as child benefit were removed), with 750,000 currently classed as "living in poverty", including 16% of the population who are working poor, ie working full-time but still living below the poverty line. It is this sector of the populace for whom a water charge of €160 to €260/year is a genuine burden, and why so many are now out on the streets.

Before this weekend's outbreak of sportsball, we actually witnessed a rare event, a reaction to our current economic and political woes that for once captured the full attention of the media. A brave politician stood up and said, "No más!", that the system was broken, prejudiced against their constituents, that it was time to take a stand and speak up for those whose voices have been so cruelly silenced. The media hung on their every word, attended rally after rally and press conference after press conference. It marveled at the courageousness of the politician for taking a stand, and the dedication of an army of grass roots volunteers who overcame such terrible odds to make their voices heard.

Sadly that politician was Lucinda Creighton, and her voiceless consultants were the top 10% of the country, the banking and developer classes, for whom the country just wasn't entrepreneurial and neo-liberal enough. If you can get past the paywall this gushing account of their Long March to launch from the Grey Lady of Tara Street is worth reading just to see the alternate reality our 10% live in. The Monster Raving Luci Party was born from an "act of conscience", wherein its founder felt the Government's oppressive policy towards women's health and reproductive rights was, in fact, too liberal and she, along with a large group of mostly male colleagues, resigned from the Government as an expression of their conservative Catholic faith. And yet try as hard as you can, you will be hard-pressed to find reference to this issue in their PR material, despite this being the core issue for most of their prospective voter-base. They even went as far as to host their launch in the Science Gallery, an act of political subterfuge no doubt designed to craft the illusion of rationality.

A scrum of Hippos. Or maybe they're Old Hipponians?
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, 1st January, 2015
This blend of conservative religious dogma with neoliberal capitalist economics is, of course, not unique to Ireland, or even to Christianity (though the US astro-turffed Tea-Party is its most obvious Western example). In 2013 the dictatorial rule of Recep Erdoğan in Turkey faced its greatest resistance in the Gezi Park revolt in Taksim Square. The park was scheduled for demolition, to be redeveloped as a shopping centre and mosque, and what began as a protest by the liberal urban population of Istanbul against the destruction of an ancient green area grew both into a revolt against the imposition of conservative religious policies and neoliberal consumerism, and a direct challenge against the authoritarianism of Erdoğan himself. The Turkish writer Bülent Somay described the protests in this way:
"Everybody wanted PM Erdoğan to resign. Because, many activists explained both during and after the Resistance, he was constantly meddling with their lifestyles, telling women to have at least three children, telling them not to have c-sections, not to have abortions, telling people not to drink, not to smoke, not to hold hands in public, to be obedient and religious. He was constantly telling them what was best for them ("shop and pray"). This was probably the best indication of the neo-liberal ("shop") soft-Islamic ("pray") character of the JDP rule: PM Erdoğan's utopia for Istanbul (and we should remember that he was the Mayor of Istanbul for four years) was a huge shopping mall and a huge mosque in Taksim Square and Gezi Park."
- Comradely Greetings, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek, p75
Swap the minarets of the mosque for the bells of the Pro-Cathedral and what better way is there to describe not just the Monster Raving Luci Party, but the ethos of the 10%, of the political/developer/banking classes and the private Catholic rugby-playing schools that spawned them, than Shop and Pray, Shop and Pray, Shop and Pray. As the draconian cuts demanded by the Troika decimated the life-raft that the 50.3% desperately clung to, the red line in the sand the the Government held to was the corporate tax rate. "Decimate our people any way you like", said two successive Governments, "but you will only prise our Laissez-faire tax-haven regime from our cold dead hands" and the Ireland of a hundred thousand welcomes became The Best Small Country in the World in Which to do Business™.

Shop and Pray. Shop and Pray. Shop and Pray.

There were an awful lot of hippos. If one came for my marble, I'd give it to him. Immediately. So would you.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, 1st January, 2015
Hippos are big animals. Very big. During the day they basically float around in stagnant or slow moving pools of water in large herds. They also poo on each other. A hippo pooing is truly one of the Seven Wonders of the animal world. They rise up out of the water just enough to bring their backside above the water line, and then proceed to projectile-stream a torrent of semi-liquid faeces. Think of a fire extinguisher going off, only much, much yuckier. But Mr Hippo is not content to merely launch his faeces in to the air, for evolution has granted him a magical tail with the power of the fastest windscreen-wiper, which he uses to disperse his poo with all the mechanical grace of a lawn-sprinkler, fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut, over all his wallowing neighbours. On their backs, on their sides, on their fronts, on their heads. Fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut. And his neighbours just lie there, covered in his poo. They don't even bother to dive and wash it off. They just continue to float, in fetid waste that is still probably safer to drink than tapwater in Boyle.

This Saturday there were 80,000 people marching in the streets of Dublin, while 10% of the country laughed all the way to the bank. With our money.

And everyone else in between just lay in the filth, wallowing, as the poo from the 10% went fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut-fhut and covered them from head to toe.

Still, sportsball, eh?

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