This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.
It has to be one of the best current affairs programmes in this part of the world. I'm referring to BBC Two's 'Newsnight', which goes out Monday to Friday after the 10.00 BBC Television news. Jeremy Paxman did it for years and now his successor, Evan Davis seems to be growing into the role and doing a great job. But other presenters, including Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis, make for compelling viewing.
Two weeks ago, the programme, hosted that particular evening by Emily Maitlis, did a short look back on the year that is about to disappear. She showed part of an interview 'Newsnight' editor Ian Katz did with David Remnick, who is editor of The New Yorker.
I strongly recommend you google an interview Remnick did with 'Spiegel online'. It is one of the best analysis I have seen or heard on the current unfolding situation in the world.
Everything this man writes is impressive.
Here's the link to the 'Spiegel online' interview:
"As the Germans know better than we do, disaster can take a nation by surprise, slowly, and then all at once."
"I don't know that Donald Trump is anything more to Putin than what Lenin called a poleznye durak, a useful idiot."
"Right-wing populism requires the denigration of an 'Other'. Left-wing populism tends to be about the haves and have-nots."
Probably because I agree with every word I read in the article I find it a brilliant piece. Of course I'm subjective, aren't we all. But it does seem that we are living in worrying times.
As Remnick says on the BBC interview he is not expecting to see a small man with hair under his nose and an armband appear in the States but we are living in dangerous times. He points out how he was opposed to Nixon and the Bushes but this is now an-all-new situation with a multi-billionaire tv celebrity with no political experience taking over the most important job on earth. Even Reagan, he points out, had been governor of California before becoming president.
And now the talk across Europe is that right-wing extreme nationalist parties will be emboldened by Trump's victory in the US.
Is there anything that is going to stop this current lurch to xenophobia?
Even more worrying is the fact that such crazy right-wing behaviour is also showing its ugly face in the churches.
The same night that BBC showed the Remnick interview, over on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), presenter Raymond Arroyo interviewed Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is having a spat with Pope Francis over aspects of the encyclical 'Amoris Laetitia'.
I was flabbergasted with the arrogance of Burke and all veiled in some sort of 'holy piousity'. He comes across as a clerical version of Donald Trump. And the servility of the interviewer Raymond Arroyo added to the cocktail to make it all so depressing.
And what's so sad is that Burke has a lot of followers in the church, just as Trump, Wilders, Le Pen et al have in the world of political life.
Just as Trump and his friends can come out with words and sentiments that have some sort of reassuring security to them, so too ministers of religion can say pious things that really have no meaning at all. It's this harking for a return to 'olden times'. Honestly, I can't take it anymore.
What to do? But I have to say Remnick's reference to Lenin's 'useful idiots' did make me laugh. Alas, ever so sad.
News that the alleged Berlin Christmas market killer has been shot dead in Italy.
At 10.00 the Italian Interior Minister held a press conference where he detailed the shooting dead of Anis Amri in Milan by Italian police at 03.00 at a railway station.
He stressed how proud the Italian security services should be for their professional work and he also mentioned the close cooperation there is between the German and Italian security services.
The two policemen involved in the incident were on patrol on the street. The man who fired the fatal shot was a new recruit. One policeman was shot but he is comfortable in hospital.
At a press conference in Berlin subsequent to the announcement in Milan German authorities spoke of the close cooperation between police forces in all 28 EU countries. And in a significant number of EU countries German police are based at their embassies.
With the permission of the author, this blog reprints the text below, which is taken from a Christmas letter to friends.
The whole world has become a bleaker place.
The historian in me is conscious that it takes time to truly judge events, developments and trends, that one should be cautious in labelling or applying large-scale significance to things – even more so in our networked world of continuous instant analysis and a plethora of post-factual multiple-choice realities.
But there is a large part of me which suspects that when, somewhere around the middle of this century, enough distance has been reached for considered reflection, historians will identify this year as a turning point. And not in a good way either.
2016, the year the old models of rationality failed? I believe this view to be eminently possible.
This is neither the time nor place to go into the whys and wherefores, to apportion blame and responsibility. Even as I write this, here in Germany people are trying to come to terms with the awful attack on the Christmas market in Berlin.
Faced with Brexit and Trump, with the horror of Aleppo and the terrorist slaughters in Brussels, Orlando and Nice (to mention just a few), with the manipulation of an inept coup attempt in Turkey to dismantle that country’s democratic infrastructure and the continuing rise of populist, revanchist, nationalist quasi-fascism in various EU countries (and you may extend this list further as you wish), can anyone deny that our world is not in a good place?
Well, of course they can, just as they can deny climate change, or that Trump lost the popular vote in the US presidential election, or that Russian troops have been substantially involved in Eastern Ukraine since 2014, or that the earth is round …
In the course of this year, Yeats’ The Second Coming(written almost a hundred years ago) has become almost a cliché, it has been quoted so often. That doesn’t make it any the less true, less prophetic.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” who can argue with that? “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity”: what a perfect description of the American election spectacle we have just viewed! I fear that the rough beast has successfully completed its slouch towards Bethlehem and that its birth will have bad consequences for us all.
What can I wish us all then for this Christmas and for 2017, as we approach the end of this difficult year? Hope?
Certainly hope, for without some kind of hope for the future we are nothing. But I wish us more than just Pandora’s only remaining gift. In the wake of the year we have experienced, I wish for us all, and the societies in which we live, a greater reliance on rationality.
Let us not surrender the world to those who shout most loudly and emotionally, and instead stand up for our right to have our societies and cultures managed by reason and clear arguments based on facts and logic rather than on lies and emotional manipulation.
And I wish us civility, respect, and gentleness in all our dealings rather than the boorishness, bullying and bad manners which have proved so horribly powerful in the past year.
The Christmas market at Breidscheidplatz is back in business.
The comments and behaviour of the AfD is despicable. They speak a language of hatred and division.
A quote form Timothy Garton Ash:
"The Polish lorry driver who seems to have been the first victim of this murderer (the person who drove the truck into the Christmas market at Breitsheidplatz) will surely have known that this was the message tirelessly repeated by Pope John Paul II, who added another simple injunction: “Defeat evil by good.”
"It’s a tall order, but if Germany can even get close to this ideal, it will be leading Europe by its example."
This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.
Editor-in-Chief at Independent News and Media, Stephen Rae was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy last Wednesday.
Stephen was talking about his visit to Syria. At the end of the interview there was a conversation about living in 'post-truth' times.
It's interesting how we try to ameliorate the meaning of words.
We no longer die, instead we 'pass away' and now we have stopped telling lies but we are involved in 'post-truths'.
Last week I heard someone say we don't talk about 'false hope'. It's now called 'misdirected hope'.
Stephen Rae mentioned how Facebook during the US election campaign carried a story referring to Trump calling the Republican Party a group of stupid people. It was also on Facebook that Pope Francis was supporting Trump.
Both stories were false.
In the era of social media anyone can say almost anything. And tell lies too.
What is truth? Veritas, Latin for truth, is the motto of the Dominican Order and honestly I often think the Order throws the word around far too easily.
It's as if we had special claims on the word.
People have always pondered over what is the truth, even Pilate did when he asked the crowd, " 'Truth?' said Pilate 'What is that?' " (John 18: 38)
Don't we all tell our stories from our point of view?
I read three articles in last week's issue of the English weekly the 'Catholic Herald'. One was an editorial on Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, another an article on the current diplomatic talks between the Vatican and China and the final piece was on Pope Benedict's resignation/retirement.
I was shocked with the attitude of all three pieces. The editorial seems to make Patriarch Kirill some sort nasty political piece of work. According to Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, any accord between the Vatican and China would "betray Christ". And Benedict, according to the writer, may not have done what the Holy Spirit would have liked
Reading all three pieces I kept thinking that there has to be another side to these stories. I did not like the tone of any of them. But is that because they were expressing right-wing opinions to which I don't subscribe?
It's a general belief held in the west that Vladimir Putin is not a 'good man'.
And yet in October while in Berlin I met a Dominican priest from Belarus, who genuinely believes that Putin is exactly what the Russian Federation needs right now.
In the last two weeks I was talking with a Russian from Astrakhan and she is so delighted that Crimea is again back in the embrace of Mother Russia.
Within the churches one sees and reads the craziest of things: people with genuine intentions believing that they know exactly what God is thinking.
And because it has to do with 'God' they feel even more certain about what they are saying.
I have no problem at all saying it can be most confusing.
Yes, social media does throw up terrible 'porkies'.
Lies are part of everyday life and always have been. It requires the discernment of the 'wisdom of Solomon' to extrapolate the truth.
Next Sunday is Christmas Day. I wish readers a great holiday. We all might stand back for a second or two and allow ourselves to wonder about the day that's in it - the Christian belief that God becomes human. What would you say to the idea that all truth is to be found in God and it's a lifetime process or journey to get any sort of glimpse at that truth?
This evening nine people have lost their lives and over 50 injured in an incident at a Christmas market at Breitscheid Platz in the heart of west Berlin. The irony of it so close to the Gedächtnis. Kirche.
The truck that drove on the pedestrian zone is said to have a Polish number plate and at 21.30 German time the police have announced that a suspect has been arrested. The passenger in the truck is dead.
Earlier today the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey was murdered at a art exhibition in Ankara
And then there are Trump, Wilders, Le Pen, AfD. Worrying times
Approximately 100 people demonstrated outside the Embassy of the Russian Federation on Orwell Road last evening.
They were demonstrating against the Russian military operation in Syria.
A passing-by cyclist, a student at UCD, stopped for a few moments and commented to someone that he was opposed to the demonstraton.
"The Russians were invited into Syria by a sovereign government, so what's the problem. But of course it's terrible what's going on and I'm sure some of the people demonstrating here are from Syria," he said.
Outside Russian embassy last evening.
The text below was sent to this blog.
In light of whats happening in Aleppo, I've received several messages and seen even more posts along the lines of 'what can we do?' and 'how did it come to this?' In this rant I'll start with the latter.
How did this war start? While in Syria I heard several situations. The first was that Qatar wanted to send an oil pipeline through Syria direct to Europe saving both the Qataris and ourselves plenty of dollars. The Assad regime was having none of it so Qatar, along with their Saudi buddies began flooding and bankrolling different groups with different weapons. The Arab spring was in effect so it could be perceived that a revolution was a natural occurrence and Qatari meddling would go under the radar.
Al Jazeera, a Qatari owned media company, would report on protests that were actually happening but blow them completely out of proportion, keeping in line with Qatar's agenda.
Another trigger to the war told to me was that Hillary Clinton pushed for regime change. After she managed to turn Libya on it's arse, Syria was next. Regime change was America's agenda. Sadly for them, swift results weren't accomplished and with Obama's 'no boots on the ground' policy promised in his election campaign, the US began flooding Syria with, you've guessed it, jihadis, cash and weapons.
The third scenario is that the Syrian people simply had had enough of the Assad regime and in line with the Arab spring banded together and rose up against the dictatorship. Which of these scenarios is the correct one? All 3, none of them? I simply don't know. How can we know without actually being there. I myself was in Aleppo province in Manbij, the equivalent as say, Navan to Dublin so I don't know. But a lot of people claim to know. We put our faith in our media and different observatory groups.
Unfortunately these organizations have their own agendas. We've seen recently that civilians are being mown down in the dozen in Aleppo right as i type this. Some outlets are reporting that it's regime troops, others reporting that it's rebels. Some sources reporting that humanitarian corridors have been sanctioned by Assad and are letting civilians and rebels flee. Others reporting that the regime are targeting people in these corridors and rebels aren't letting civilians leave. Whose right? I don't know.
We've all seen the White Helmets in action pulling people from the rubble. On one hand they are doing remarkable work, saving lives and dying daily. On the other hand, when you delve into their origins, this group isn't as black and white as Facebook (also with an agenda) would lead you to believe. Backed by George Soros, a man who leads a company on western Intervention, The White Helmets have serious financial backing in the hundreds of millions. While they do exceptional work, saving lives isn't their main purpose. They are a pawn in this war and are a useful propaganda tool in Britain's agenda (regime change).
So what may have started out as a civil war is now a straight up proxy war. Every nation on Earth is meddling in Syria, each with their own media, each with their own agendas. Even Canada. CANADA! Even America's polite and nervous neighbour to the north has their agenda.
There are up to 1500 groups fighting in Syria right now. Sunnis, shias, Saudi & Qatari backed, ISIS, US, UK, Turkey, the list goes on. None of these give a shit about the people of Aleppo and Syria. And for what? Oil and regime change.
And that leads me into what we can do about it. Directly helping the people from an emergency humanitarian angle is extremely difficult. When we set up Syrias Vibes we couldn't get certification to accept donations to our site because our URL had the word Syria in it. Only when we threatened to go full Twitter on the situation did we receive said certification. We also had a large donation sent to us by transfer from one Irish bank to another. The reference on the transfer was' Syria' so the payment was frozen by City Bank (US) in Germany and would only be released if we could prove that the money would not go to Syria. Our work is in Syria so where the hell are we gonna send it?!
So that, with sanctions and border closures, the world couldn't give a flying toss to help the people there. Where's the UN? Busy condemning everyone, which is what they do best.
You have to look at this as an economic travesty. Europe want cheap oil, America want cheap oil, we want cheap oil. Our need to keep it cheap, along with electronics, slave labored clothes and bags of bananas for under a dollar have led to the absolute shitfest of a planet we find ourselves in. We let our governments do what they gotta do on our behalf and let the media they control ram their agendas down our throats.
So what can we do for the people of Aleppo? Fuck all. We should all be ashamed of ourselves for the people of Aleppo, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Chad, all of these people floating around the med, all of these people who eat 4 meals a week. If you want to do something you'd want to sort out the difference between your greed and your needs. I was never a politically minded person. Left wing, right wing, someone's got their hand up the birds ass anyway is what I thought. But it's 2016, the year satire and humanity died and it's up to all of us to get active, to have a voice, let these lying fucking idiots that we elect term after term that this isn't us. It's our duty to help and be heard so get on it or go back to yer cat videos.
This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.
The little boy must have been no more than five. His father was a tall well-built man, probably in his early 40s.
They were both sitting across from me on the upper deck of a Dublin Bus travelling in to Dublin city centre last week.
The little boy was all questions. He was looking out the window and asking his dad about everything he saw.
And then it came to their stop and dad had to help his little son down the stairs. It looked as if the child wanted to stay on the bus and he was in no doubt he could manage the stairs down to the lower deck but his father was not so sure and guided his passage down the stairs of the moving bus. Never too easy an exercise for the most agile of people.
Of course the boy would have been sitting up in the front seat had it been free. I can imagine that would have been his dream trip.
I observed the two of them for about five minutes. Those five minutes brought me back a long time.
I can remember exactly a similar situation: I was approximately the same age as the little boy and my father and I were going from our home over to visit his parents on the north side of the city. Dad would have been in his mid-40s and I about five or six. I can remember sitting in the front seat upstairs and looking at everything down below, all the time bombarding my father with all sorts of questions.
That little boy brought back fabulous memories for me. I felt my father was alive beside me on the bus and we were back travelling over to the north side of the city.
Alas, my father is over 12 years dead, my mother died in 1988. Dad was 95 and my mother was 78.
How much of our parents are in us? How much of what we think and do is shaped by our parents. Certainly their influence on us is enormous. Have you ever found yourself doing things and then realising that is exactly what your mother or father did. At a younger age we may have railed against their foibles and as we get older we are doing exactly as they did. And it would seem that the older we get the greater the temptation it is to copy the behaviour of our parents. So much reminds us of them.
Patrick Kavanagh in his poem 'Memory of my father' writes about the old men he sees and how they remind him of his father.
Christmas Day looms and every child in the country is on high alert in great expectation of the big day.
It's a magic time of the year for children. I can imagine parents are always reminded of their own childhood Christmases when celebrating with their children. Grandparents too. It's the perfect time for them to relive their own childhoods.
Our memories bring us back to other times and other places. How real are they?
How often do we find ourselves romanticising the past as if it were almost paradise on earth?
Last week I asked an elderly lady what age would she like to be. "Once I'm happy and well it doesn't matter," was her wise reply.
It might well be a matter of living in the now and making the best of it.
That's what that little boy and dad were doing. But they also gave me a chance to wander back a few years and smile to myself.
Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.
How was Auschwitz possible, what was anti-Semitism?
It used the hatred of the people of their dependence on money as a medium of exchange, their longing for communism.
Auschwitz means that six million Jews were murdered and carted on to the rubbish dumps of Europe for being that which was maintained of them – Money-Jews.
What had happened was that finance capital and banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had diverted the people's hatred of money and exploitation away from themselves and on to the Jews."
The 'Thinking Anew' column in 'The Irish Times' today.
Are there any platitudes left to say about Christmas and the weeks leading up to the festive day?
Last Saturday driving back from climbing Djouce mountain in Wicklow, the prospect of getting caught in a traffic jam leading to a south Dublin shopping centre brought on nightmares. Indeed, it took away some of the great joy of the day's walking in the hills.
Are these just the thoughts and feelings of a grumpy old man with no children and no grandchildren getting annoyed about the razzmatazz of Christmas? There are times when I simply can't believe the madness that surrounds the 'Christmas season'.
During the four weeks of Advent it's a mix of clerics doling out preposterous clichés about preparing for the great event of the birth of Jesus, with the world of commerce trying every trick in the book to cajole us to buy buy, buy, buy. There is an element of mass hysteria about it, which means it's difficult not to get caught up in it all.
Half a century ago the season of Christmas began on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception and ended with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
One cannot avoid wondering is there some sort of link between losing faith or belief in the incarnation with placing a far greater energy on celebrating the event, even if we don't have any belief in what it is all about.
If I read another word about how to cook the turkey, another word about how to behave at the Christmas office party, another word about how to avoid a hangover, I might explode.
Honestly I'm bored to tears with it all. It's simply annoying and just as the world seems to be expressing a tiredness with conventional politics, it can't be long before we will all admit that we are punch drunk with the nonsense that surrounds Christmas. And again, like hysteria, many people are simply afraid to step off the carousel and admit that it has all got out of hand.
Is it as bad as that? Or is this simply not the thoughts of Charles Dickens' miserly Scrooge, who sees Christmas festivities as humbug. That is, until he allows himself to experience conversion, be filled with joy and join in in the fun and games of the season of good will.
Of course, Christmas is a great time for children. Those who have been fortunate to have had happy childhoods will always recall childhood Christmases as special events in their lives. I can still remember, probably as a seven-year-old, getting a toy bus for Christmas. It had a battery, which meant I could turn on and off the lights. It was pure magic.
In my childhood, our liturgical celebration meant attending the earliest and quickest Mass possible to be home to play with the toys, and for Mum to get cracking on the Christmas dinner.
Certainly, the commercialisation was not as intense then as it is now but it would seem there has always been an ambivalence about Christmas. These days, just as with so many aspects of our lives, we tend to exaggerate the occasion.
I am reminded of the poet Patrick Kavanagh’s line when he wrote about Advent: "We have tested and tasted too much, lover/Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder."
Imagine, if we could take our leave of tinseltown for a moment, and think of the event we are celebrating, even ask ourselves imponderable questions about God: whether we believe in God and then whether we believe that Jesus Christ is God. What does it mean to say I believe in God?
Tomorrow's Gospel (Matthew 11: 2 - 11) talks about a God who heals, a God who makes the blind see. Surely Christmas is a time to think about healing and seeing.
The preamble to the German Basic Law or constitution. And below the first paragraph of the first article of the Basic Law.
Conscious of their responsibility before God and man, Inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people, in the exercise of their constituent power, have adopted this Basic Law. Germans in the Länder of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia have achieved the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination. This Basic Law thus applies to the entire German people.
(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.
What does it mean to say I believe in God?
There are a myriad religions. Billions of people profess allegiance to some form of religion. There are over one billion Catholics on the planet. Religion is a big business but of course it's a lot more than that.
My experience of religion is within the Catholic Church and within the Catholic Church it has been as a member of the Dominican Order.
And I have been observing things now for quite some time.
The catalyst for this week's column is a conversation I had with a number of people in the last few days.
It was an eclectic group. With the exception of two people in the group, all had been baptised within the Catholic Church. Today some of them are strident atheists, some 'sort-of' believers and maybe one or two might admit to practising their religion.
And what does it mean when someone says they practise their religion?
Is there a cut-off point for being a member of the Catholic Church? I know a number of priests in active ministry, who would be slow to say that Jesus Christ was/is God. I can hear you say they surely must be frauds or hypocrites. But I could retort and ask at what stage did Jesus know he was God? Did the infant know, did Jesus as a five-year-old boy know he was God?
One would imagine that belief in divinity, death and resurrection are essential tenets for a believer. What about the doctrines of the Trinity, virgin birth, immaculate conception, original sin?
It would appear that there is a spectacular disconnect between religious purists and the general body of people who subscribe to the Catholic Church or simply call themselves Catholics.
At what stage does someone have to say that in all honesty they can no longer call themselves Catholic?
In all my years observing things I can't help but be inclined to feel sympathetic for people who feel unsure about so many aspects of their faith.
If I were to go into an office, a factory or a classroom and ask the people in those places what it means to say there are three persons in the one God or what it means to say that Christ is present in the Eucharist I can imagine the confusion and difference of opinion that would be aired.
We seldom if ever hear debate or discussion about what it means to say Christ is present in the Eucharist. Some months ago I heard a priest preach a fine sermon at Mass where he spoke about Christ being sacramentally present in the Eucharist. Surely Christ is not present in the Eucharist the way I am sitting in this seat.
Again, the disconnect between what the purists say and what people think and believe is enormous.
Once we mention God's name we are in unusual territory. Everything to do with religion is nuanced, delicate.
Yet, when it comes to issues concerning sexuality there seems to be all sorts of red lines drawn.
I'm inclined to think that there is some great game being played out.
Last week I was in a darkened room with a dying man. I read a Psalm and blessed the man. The words of the Psalm had great meaning. They gave solace, ease. I felt privileged to be there and to read that Psalm.
A la carte Christianity? Maybe the bottom line is that dogmatism leads to strange places.
God? Always a matter of being kind and sympathetic. After all, don't we say we believe in a loving God.
A Chinese expert, who advises the Chinese government, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning.
He was asked about the Taiwan Trump phone call. The government adviser said Taiwan was a bottom line and that China will accept nothing other than the 'One China' approach.
The man scaringly said yes, any infringement would mean economic, trade issues, but also he did not rule out military intervention.
Trump is worse than people thought. He is a war monger. He has said he wants to 'make America strong again'. Exactly what the little Austrian with the moustache said over and over again. And the people believed him too.
A story in 'The Guardian' today tells of how an assistant chief constable was censured for a rant over a colleague's breat surgery.
Rebekah Sutcliffe told Supt Sarah Jackson that her 'credibility was zero' after her breast-enhancing surgery, and berated her as a laughing stock, who would be judged professionally 'on the size of her tits'.
The assistant chief constable pulled down the front of her own dress to expose her left breast and told Jackson: "Look at these, look at these, these are the breasts of someone who has had three children. They are ugly but I don't feel the need to pump myself full of silicone to get self-esteem.
The incident took place in the early hours at Manchester's Hilton hotel. Sutcliffe launched her drunken tirade at Jackson after a gala dinner at the national Senior Women in Policing Conference on May 6.
Donald Trump claims that millions voted illegally in the election, to his detriment. But he has offered no proof for his allegation, continuing his use of a method that proved effective in the campaign: broadcasting unproven and most likely false claims. Right-wing populists in other countries use the same approach.