Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin/Galway, Ireland. 27, history graduate & human rights student
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Jan 18
Permalink

on killing cops and reading (Koestler)

"I have a book up there, confessions of ex communists who quit when they recognized its totalitarian beastliness, The God That Failed the title  (including one dull O awfully dull account of André Gide’s that old postmortem bore) - all I have, for reading - and become depressed by the thought of a world (O what a world is this, that friendships cancel enmity of the heart, people fighting for something to fight, everywhere) a world of GPU’s and spies and dictators and purges and midnight murders and marijuana revolutions with guns and gangs in the desert - suddenly, just by tuning in on America via the lookout radio listening to the other boys in the bull session, I hear football scores, talk of so-and-so “Bo Pelligrini! - what a bruiser!! I don’t talk to anybody from Maryland” - and the jokes and the laconic stay, I realize, “America is as free as that wild wind, out there, still free, free as when there was no name to that border to call it Canada and on Friday nights when Canadian Fishermen come in old cars on the old road beyond the lake tarn” (that I can see, the little lights of Friday night, thinking then immediately of their hats and gear and flies and lines) “on Friday nights it was the nameless Indian came, the Skagit, and a few log forts were up there, and down here a ways, and winds blew on free feet and free antlers, and still do, on free radio waves, on free wild youngtalk of America on the radio, college boys, fearless free boys, a million miles from Siberia this is and Amerikay is a good old country yet-“

For the whole blighted darkness-woe of thinking about Russias and plots to assassinate whole peoples’ souls, is lifted just by hearing “My God, the score is 26-0 already - they couldn’t gain anything thru the line” - “Just like the All Stars” - “Hey Ed when you comin down off your lookout?” - “He’s goin steady, he’ll be wantin to go home straight” - “We might take a look at Glacier National Park” - “We’re going home thru the Badlands of North Dakota” - “You mean the Black Hills” - “I don’t talk to anybody from Syracuse” - “Anybody know a good bedtime story?” - “Hey it’s eight thirty, we better knock off- How 33 ten-seven until tomorrow morning. Good night” - “Ho! How 32 ten-seven till tomorrow morning- Sleep tight” - “Did you say you had Honkgonk on your portable radio?” - “Sure, listen, hingya hingya hingya” - “That does it, good night” -

And I know that America is too vast with people too vast to ever be degraded to the level of a slave nation, and I can go hitch hiking down that road and on into the remaining years of my life knowing that outside of a couple of fights in bars started by drunks I’ll have not a hair of my head (and I need a haircut) harmed by Totalitarian cruelty- 

Indian scalp say this, and prophesy:

"From these walls, laughter will run over the world, infecting with courage the bent laborious peon of antiquity."

Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels, I:15 (1965)

Although it’s one of my favourite Kerouac books (more creative, though less accessible, than On The Road or even Dharma Bums) I haven’t read it in a few years and didn’t realise there was a passing, indirect reference to my thesis subject Arthur Koestler (I like Ks and misogynists who have penetrating insights into the human condition). Actually I never read The God That Failed, which Koestler contributed one of the essays to, because it was at least five years outside my timeframe and the library copy was missing. But I read enough about what was in it, and Koestler’s story as recounted in his novels and autobiography - propaganda for the increasingly virulent anti-Communist attitude in the west, but also a genuine psychological exposé of a totalitarian ideology.

It’s not surprising that a book which was so much part of the cultural and political zeitgeist ended up with Kerouac in his fire-lookout cabin on a Washington State mountain. It’s also not surprising, reading these thoughts, that he voted for Eisenhower (or so he is supposed to have said). It may seem a little odd to posit sports fanaticism as a countervailing tradition to totalitarian dictatorships, but I’d imagine it would have a lot of resonance with many conservatives today (not Republicans, necessarily, just conservatives - with a small c, perhaps). You could probably find a New York Times op-ed on the subject, even. Kerouac’s genius was to romanticise in a hectic, muddy way the underbelly of American capitalism - the bums, the petty crooks, the marginal workers - while portraying his journey as an artistic flight from suburban, respectable conservatism.

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kerouac koestler books politics american exceptionalism orwell buddhism
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Jan 17
Permalink vinyl the xx uk american exceptionalism
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There’s a good Atlantic piece about the influence of US pro-life organisations on Ireland, which is seen as one of the “last bastions” of severely restricted abortion in the developed world. The most notorious Irish protest/lobby group, Youth Defence, recently spent money on printing posters of foetuses with Santa hats and attacking a government minister who spoke out not only in favour of legislation but also pointed out that our constitutional position on abortion ‘qualifies’ the right to the health of Irish women. Robocalls, which are illegal in Ireland, were made by an unidentified organisation purporting to quote medical opinion that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, and traced back to an organisation in the US. In public debate the issue of suicide as grounds for an abortion has become a key topic, with a succession of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians coming out to state their ‘concern’ that women may abuse any such exemption, or casting doubt on its necessity in the first place.  
Two polls conducted by the same organisation but commissioned by different clients (a Sunday newspaper and a bookmaker) were released on either side of Christmas. Both show majority support for legislation on at least the basis of the X Case judgement, which included suicide as a ‘real and substantial risk’ to the ‘life of the mother’ that would justify termination under the article of the Irish constitution which gives equal rights to protecting the life of pregnant women and foetuses.
The Sunday Business Post poll asked respondents to agree or disagree with four different positions in succession, of which the X Case (including suicide). Another position, a referendum to remove suicide as a grounds for life-saving abortion, got 63% support, a result which many found confusing - though what I suspect it really indicated was that some would take legislation for the X Case without suicide, and some would take the opportunity to copperfasten Ireland’s restrictive abortion regime, leaving a minority either opposed to any action whatsoever or holding out for a more liberal option (and in the structure of the question, the other  options were X Case as it stands - as shown above - with suicide, abortion on the basis of health, or abortion on request - the first two which scored in the 80s, the last only in the 30s).
The later Paddy Power poll simplified the question somewhat by asking which option people would take: no legislation for abortion, hold a referendum to remove suicide, legislate for the X Case, or change the constitution for abortion on request. The sum of the last two - assuming that those in favour of ‘abortion on request’ would also be in favour of the X Case as a less preferable option but more liberal than the status quo - only reaches 64%, still a majority but significantly less than the number that chose legislating for X, with suicide, in the previous poll.
 The fact that the polls were commissioned by different clients means RedC offer no comparative analysis of their own, and the change in the structure of the question (if not the wording or content of the individual choices) would rightly lead one to be sceptical of any comparison. Yet the logic seems sound enough to me, and assuming there has been a fall in public support for including suicide, the breakdown of the figures for each poll according to party support seem to show where it has come from: voters from the two main conservative parties (and to a lesser extent Labour) whose politicians happen to be the most targeted by pro-life groups and the most likely to come out with statements questioning the inclusion of suicide in the past month or so. Supporters of Sinn Féin and Independents, although definitely including some social conservatives (and indeed being slightly more conservative on the question than the average before) seem to have been unaffected.
As support for X Case legislation remains in the majority, or since that fact has once again been evidenced by opinion polling, supporters of such action have seen the latest figures as positive. But to me it is worrying evidence of the influence of pro-life lobbying on conservative politicians, and through them to the general public, on the suicide issue. 

There’s a good Atlantic piece about the influence of US pro-life organisations on Ireland, which is seen as one of the “last bastions” of severely restricted abortion in the developed world. The most notorious Irish protest/lobby group, Youth Defence, recently spent money on printing posters of foetuses with Santa hats and attacking a government minister who spoke out not only in favour of legislation but also pointed out that our constitutional position on abortion ‘qualifies’ the right to the health of Irish women. Robocalls, which are illegal in Ireland, were made by an unidentified organisation purporting to quote medical opinion that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, and traced back to an organisation in the US. In public debate the issue of suicide as grounds for an abortion has become a key topic, with a succession of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians coming out to state their ‘concern’ that women may abuse any such exemption, or casting doubt on its necessity in the first place.  

Two polls conducted by the same organisation but commissioned by different clients (a Sunday newspaper and a bookmaker) were released on either side of Christmas. Both show majority support for legislation on at least the basis of the X Case judgement, which included suicide as a ‘real and substantial risk’ to the ‘life of the mother’ that would justify termination under the article of the Irish constitution which gives equal rights to protecting the life of pregnant women and foetuses.

The Sunday Business Post poll asked respondents to agree or disagree with four different positions in succession, of which the X Case (including suicide). Another position, a referendum to remove suicide as a grounds for life-saving abortion, got 63% support, a result which many found confusing - though what I suspect it really indicated was that some would take legislation for the X Case without suicide, and some would take the opportunity to copperfasten Ireland’s restrictive abortion regime, leaving a minority either opposed to any action whatsoever or holding out for a more liberal option (and in the structure of the question, the other  options were X Case as it stands - as shown above - with suicide, abortion on the basis of health, or abortion on request - the first two which scored in the 80s, the last only in the 30s).

The later Paddy Power poll simplified the question somewhat by asking which option people would take: no legislation for abortion, hold a referendum to remove suicide, legislate for the X Case, or change the constitution for abortion on request. The sum of the last two - assuming that those in favour of ‘abortion on request’ would also be in favour of the X Case as a less preferable option but more liberal than the status quo - only reaches 64%, still a majority but significantly less than the number that chose legislating for X, with suicide, in the previous poll.

The fact that the polls were commissioned by different clients means RedC offer no comparative analysis of their own, and the change in the structure of the question (if not the wording or content of the individual choices) would rightly lead one to be sceptical of any comparison. Yet the logic seems sound enough to me, and assuming there has been a fall in public support for including suicide, the breakdown of the figures for each poll according to party support seem to show where it has come from: voters from the two main conservative parties (and to a lesser extent Labour) whose politicians happen to be the most targeted by pro-life groups and the most likely to come out with statements questioning the inclusion of suicide in the past month or so. Supporters of Sinn Féin and Independents, although definitely including some social conservatives (and indeed being slightly more conservative on the question than the average before) seem to have been unaffected.

As support for X Case legislation remains in the majority, or since that fact has once again been evidenced by opinion polling, supporters of such action have seen the latest figures as positive. But to me it is worrying evidence of the influence of pro-life lobbying on conservative politicians, and through them to the general public, on the suicide issue. 

abortion pro-life american exceptionalism irish
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Jan 06
Permalink irish american exceptionalism politics hitler runoff
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Jan 03
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The Dropkick Murphys - ‘The Black Velvet Band’ from Blackout (2003)

[I found this post deep in my draft folder, from sometime early last year… I can’t remember where I was going to continue it on to, possibly something about the song itself - I like it! - but what I’ve written so far matches well enough with what I mentioned earlier today]

First things first: the Dropkick Murphys are not an ‘Irish’ band - they are, at best, Irish-American (clue’s in the name, guys - nobody in Ireland knows what a ‘dropkick’ is, unless they follow American football… or, okay, rugby). I saw this problem of overlapping and contradictory definitions explained quite well by a genealogist recently: that for Americans, with their multiple strands of immigrant backgrounds, what we see as a national identity based largely on being born (natio) on the island of Ireland, is instead an ‘add-on’, heritage-based self-image. Which is cool,  because it brings a lot of interest and a sizeable tourist spend, although sometimes the connections seem remarkably tenuous and selective (my great-great-grandfather was Welsh, but I don’t tend to identify myself as such - even though that’s a closer relationship than Obama to Moneygall, Co. Offaly).

It’s just that Irish-Americans often seem to omit what it is an ‘add-on’ to - American nationality and heritage. Which is understandable in a sense, because American-ness is perhaps both shallower and deeper than Old World nationality - shallower in that it seldom goes further back than two centuries, deeper in that it transcends mere nationality in a fireworks of patriotism, destiny and exceptionalism. So I can see why Americans might omit it both out of the more powerful attraction of a mysterious European past, and the assumption that it’s obvious that they’re as American as a certain fruit pastry. Just remember, though, when you describe yourself or someone or something else as ‘Irish’, there are those of us for whom it’s not an add-on to anything, but our primary identity (or for whom it’s a new, local identity in addition to being, say, Polish or Nigerian).

It’s a curious situation to be in, culturally, when ‘Irishness’ is the totality of one’s own identity - aside from an over-arching European quasi-citizenship, which I’m more aware of historically than linguistically or culturally, or a globalised English-speaking first-world privilege, or indeed the subordinated local identities of city and county and other, non-geographical identities. I’ve written before of ‘Irishness’ being an externally constructed concept, of how others see us rather than how we really are, or how at least we see ourselves - like a fish in the ocean, it can be hard to identify that which surrounds you or, more importantly, to separate it from the exports and influences of other cultures. We might say at this stage, why bother? But just because our words can be communicated globally in an instant, doesn’t mean our experiences can be, at least not with such ease of transmission. There is that part of us that is always concerned with place and people, and that cavils at misrepresentation, even though we know that everything about ourselves is already contested, by us. Such is life, in post-modernity or before.

In a way perhaps culture is just a symbology of that struggle - remembrances of times past, collective ideas to bind us together and against others - as much as having any kind of genuinely shared content. Maybe our celebrated interculturalism is nothing but a card-swap game?  

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Dropkick Murphys irish american exceptionalism
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Dec 22
Permalink
easpageag:

thesefewpresidents:

I am a child.
Edit: context, for those who may need it.

Free miniature Irish flags for others.

What that foetus needs is a warm gun to defend itself.
Incidentally, the Washington Post has an article about our abortion robocalls being traced to the US* that expresses polite incredulity that we’re actually bothered by them:

"The calls might have been unremarkable in the United States, where abortion politics long have been fierce and political robocalls are protected by the First Amendment. But in Ireland, they are illegal, punishable by fines of up to $330,000 per offense. So upset were many Irish to get such a message at home — sometimes over dinner, or while putting their children to bed — that complaints flowed into authorities at a record pace."

Seriously, the First Amendment protects someone’s right to automatically dial a phone and play a recorded message? (In the same way the Second Amendment protects someone’s right to keep an assault rifle in their house, I suppose?). As it happens, the poster above - the Santa hat is real, the actual caption states “Enda: All I want for Christmas is my right to life” - is also illegal, simply because it’s not a electoral campaign poster and contravenes littering laws. Although if they’d bought commercial advertising space…
* “A person familiar with the complaints about the Irish robocalls said that regulators, who have declined to publicly name the group involved, have traced the calls to an employee of Personhood USA, an activist group in Arvada, Colo., a Denver suburb.”

easpageag:

thesefewpresidents:

I am a child.

Edit: context, for those who may need it.

Free miniature Irish flags for others.

What that foetus needs is a warm gun to defend itself.

Incidentally, the Washington Post has an article about our abortion robocalls being traced to the US* that expresses polite incredulity that we’re actually bothered by them:

"The calls might have been unremarkable in the United States, where abortion politics long have been fierce and political robocalls are protected by the First Amendment. But in Ireland, they are illegal, punishable by fines of up to $330,000 per offense. So upset were many Irish to get such a message at home — sometimes over dinner, or while putting their children to bed — that complaints flowed into authorities at a record pace."

Seriously, the First Amendment protects someone’s right to automatically dial a phone and play a recorded message? (In the same way the Second Amendment protects someone’s right to keep an assault rifle in their house, I suppose?). As it happens, the poster above - the Santa hat is real, the actual caption states “Enda: All I want for Christmas is my right to life” - is also illegal, simply because it’s not a electoral campaign poster and contravenes littering laws. Although if they’d bought commercial advertising space…

* “A person familiar with the complaints about the Irish robocalls said that regulators, who have declined to publicly name the group involved, have traced the calls to an employee of Personhood USA, an activist group in Arvada, Colo., a Denver suburb.”

abortion irish politics american exceptionalism
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Been one all my life

barthel:

[…] 

The right’s been increasingly jumping on this strategy of leveraging identity politics techniques and language for their own ends, and as frustrating as it is to hear, I don’t think it’s been particularly successful. That they keep doing it anyway shows a couple things. First, it shows that they do think of themselves as a persecuted minority, a theme that came through loud and clear in the Tea Party but also resounds in the NRA’s approach. And second, it shows that they still don’t get what the civil rights movements really meant. It wasn’t just about the most visible legalistic moves and the expansion of formal rights. It was about normalizing these groups and including them in American culture. People might occasionally buy that the right’s core groups are being treated unfairly, but they’re certainly not going to buy that they aren’t fully established within America’s self-definition.

And so arguments that they’re not being given an equal chance to have their voice heard simply aren’t going to fly anymore. Gun owners are an important group and deserve to be part of the debate about how we’re going to regulate guns just as surely as long-haul truckers deserve to be part of the debate about how we’re going to regulate long-haul trucking. But it would be far more productive to argue the policy points at hand rather than insisting that the debate shouldn’t even be taking place. They can’t do that, though, because it would betray that definition of gun ownership as a primary identity, rather than just something you do in the course of your life. As long as the right encourages itself to think of its core cultural identity as a set of specific policy stances rather than a group of shared values applied anew to each situation, they aren’t going to let themselves deviate from those policy stances, and so will drift father and farther away from the middle. A political orientation that ties itself to a material reality rather than a particular orientation to the world will grow stale very quickly, and that’s what we’ve been seeing over the last six years.

Another of the parallels between the Newtown aftermath in America and the abortion situation in Ireland right now, is the totally out-of-touch and insensitive reaction of conservative interest groups. In the Irish case, it’s the Catholic archbishops’ extraordinary statement in response to the government’s announcement that it will, finally, legislate on the narrow exceptions to the abortion ban as decided 20 years ago by the Supreme Court: declaring it would “pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children” - as if that kind of theological-moral judgement has any substantial relevance to a public health policy question, or to modern Irish politics.

Another bishop publicly stated it would be the beginning of a “culture of death”. And if anyone questions their intervention (as some have, significantly) the response is to claim a right to their opinion and free expression, as if the right is now the guardian of liberalism. The more moderate Archbishop of Dublin had it right when he noted that the Minister’s remarks above did not question their right to say anything - but by implication, the way they said it. Of course, if the representatives of a religion have strong moral views on the value of the unborn - as does our constitution, unfortunately - they have a right to express them, but some sensitivity to their position in wider society is required if they’re going to make pronouncements on such fundamental public political issues.

There’s a contrast here I think between the bishops’ statement on the abortion issue and the role of Fr. Seán Healy and the Council of Religious in Ireland in advocating for protecting the poor and raising taxes on the wealthy in government budgets. To wit, that the thundering statements from the bishops do not come out on those genuinely social, societal issues, but rather on the moral issues that illustrate the gap between previously accepted Church teaching and contemporary public and political opinion. Theoretically, the Catholic Church should be about ‘shared values applied anew to each situation’, although by their nature they’ve found it hard to share with many others; while in reality the retreat of religious influence in society has meant that the policy positions - abortion, gay marriage, and the last bastion of involvement in education - have become the totemic items of identity in a largely indifferent world. By comparison, the minority Protestant Church of Ireland has better adapted to the indifference, recognising the principle of public choice while maintaining its own stance on the life of the unborn - but in Ireland ‘choice’ has always been alien to Catholicism, which conceptualises itself as an identity - and a persecuted one at that - rather than as an ideology.

irish abortion american exceptionalism nra politics
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Dec 20
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Soviet Propaganda Cartoons - ‘Shooting Range’, V. Tarasov (1979)

I saw this this morning on Sky Arts, as part of a series of documentaries on Russian animations produced for propaganda purposes (the episode which included this film was entitled ‘American Imperialists’).* 

The film is superb visually, as a pastiche of American culture (especially brands - prefiguring Logoland by thirty years) and in its own right as an animation. The image of a New York-like city is accompanied throughout by a pretty good jazz score - and according to the documentary the main characters red cap is inspired by J.D. Salinger. The central conceit, of an unemployed man being tricked into serving as a human target, has a striking if twisted resonance to current American events - especially the scene which pans across the table of different guns, although as far as I know, and hope I’m right, Tommy guns and other automatic, machine-gun weapons are not available to civilians in the US. Yet apart from that exaggeration it reflects the gun show mentality - even if the problem with American gun control is that high-powered guns aren’t restricted to shooting ranges, but are kept in people’s homes as well. (Of course, in 1979 the Soviet Union was invading Afghanistan, so it’s not like they have a special claim to a pacific nature over the United States then or now).

The second part is well worth watching as well, as it’s even zanier.

*Bizarrely, the credits at the end thank various sources including ‘RTE Irish Television’ - I’ve heard that the station used to fill airtime with imports of foreign cartoons from Eastern Europe, but to have bought outright propaganda ones seems incredible for a country that was, at least officially, reflexively anti-Communist and opposed to ‘Godless socialism’. It’d be fascinating to know the story behind it - was it just a case of no-one in charge caring if it was cheap, or did the supposed infiltration of RTÉ by the socialist republican Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party (the ‘Stickies’) pursue some odd methods?

film american exceptionalism socialism guns
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Dec 16
Permalink
The conversation can continue. I think the more curious, the more exploratory, the more interested in the range of actually-lived practices people are (on all sides), the more possible it becomes for real change to occur, for the great knotted muscle at the heart of contemporary American life to relax, unwind and open up.

Don’t Bring Policy to a Culture Fight 

I followed the link to this piece on gun control from an equally thought-provoking blog post from the New Inquiry. It goes against the normal grain of my thought, which is that more discussion about policy is a good thing and that a ‘culture fight’ deserves to have its ideologies exposed. But for the most part those kind of issues about guns have been exposed, leaving a raw kind of debate on either side (though I think that the idea of concealed carry leading to a drop in crime rates is, on cursory examination, a statistical confidence track that deserves to be exposed as such - but then fact-checking is the new singing-to-the-choir, at least according to the New Inquiry). The above may also seem a little lily-livered, defeatist and/or passive - even if it’s a cliche that listening and engaging with opponents is often a tougher choice than simply criticising them.

Yet thinking about the parallels between the Irish abortion issue and gun control, I reckon it’s exactly the above process that has led to a shift in attitudes here - in particular increased familiarity and openness with women’s experiences of abortion, typically abroad (how one maps that onto senseless deaths by gunfire, well, I don’t know - I’ve never had personal or local experience of that, save for the legacy of the Troubles in the North and ‘gangland’ crime in modern Dublin). The ideological positions - the strict Catholic morality and effective misogyny at the heart of traditional Irish society - haven’t disappeared, but they have had to watch much of the current population drift by and away.

From the historical perspective, American gun culture may have shallower (or at least narrower) roots than the above author suggests, which may make it easier to ultimately displace, but less likely to pass in the immediate future. I don’t believe we’ll get a repeal of our pro-life constitutional amendment any time too soon here either, but I’m hopeful that necessary legislation in the present will lead to a better discussion on the topic in the future. Maybe that’s a reasonable route for gun control too?

guns abortion american exceptionalism irish
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#Newtown and #Savita

There are a number of parallels I see between these two (potential) turning points on similarly controversial issues of gun control and abortion. Except that the former is pretty much a non-issue outside of the US, while in the latter case Ireland occupies the extreme of right-wing policy anywhere in the developed world. The result being that foreign and home-grown progressives merge disbelief with strong criticism of national qualities: Ireland’s ‘medieval’ abortion laws (even if the historian in me wants to point out that 1861 is firmly in the Victorian period), or the Guardian describing America as a ‘failed state’ when it comes to guns and violence.

In both cases some people claim an aversion to politicising tragedy, but the simple riposte is: if not now, when? As more details emerge, others will always remain unclear, and it’s easy to point to an agnosticism as the most responsible stance - but  to do so ignores the sufficiency of facts as they stand, and, without minimising the tragedy (quite the opposite really) their symbolic function; the extent to which the emotional reaction to events provides the catalyst for real political momentum. There’s a good deal of scepticism over whether anything can really change in the American gun control debate, and whether action will really be taken.

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abortion guns newtown savita politics american exceptionalism irish
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