Thursday, February 23, 2006

Timeo Danaos Et Dona Ferentes

When I heard this piece of news, I was momentarily relieved.

I understand that the jury may be out on the economic impact of the Madison smoking ban. What I could not understand, however, was the refusal of an exemption for cigar bars. No, this was not originally offered.

I should say cigar bar (singular) because to my knowledge, there is only one. Think about the owner of such an establishment when the government that rules your city basically tells you that you will go out of business.

To put it more plainly, who would go to an non-smoking cigar bar. Isn't cigar smoking a sine qua non of the cigar bar.

Why momentarily relieved, you ask?

Well, I thought that Mayor Dave had come to his senses and realized that compromises could be made and that maybe-just maybe-he is a more reasonable person than I had originally thought. This was not to be.

He makes two of the most annoying general arguments that are clearly fallacies of reasoning (read the article to pick these out).

Mayor Dave, I accuse you of commiting the "slippery slope" fallacy and that old favorite post hoc ergo propter hoc.

You see, dear magistrate, just because one action MAY lead to another, it cannot be asserted that it WILL. The "slippery slope" is false because it supposes a chain of cause and effect into the future which is clearly impossible.

Also, you will note that just because Event X precedes Event Y, it does not mean that X causes Y. Let's posit a fun example. My birth in September of 1977 preceded the election of Ed Koch as mayor of New York City by two months. One could say that the two are related.

A less extreme example. You have a chicken vindaloo for dinner. It is spicy and you have nothing to drink. You go out to get a beverage and, while on the way, are killed by ruffians. It could be said, were post hoc ergo propter hoc true, that your liking for spicy food caused your death.

But wait. Maybe I am committing the greatest fallacy of them all.

Yes, you guessed it. Argumentum ad verecundiam.

I supposed that the mayor, because he is the mayor, has some sort of higher faculty for diagnosing problems and hashing out solutions. Isn't that what politicians should do?

Should but don't. Silly boy. I know better than that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Love Crazed Sex Goddesses

The title, unfortunately, is the best thing about this post. I am mired in laundry, Thomas Hobbes and fin-de-seicle Vienna. As Dubliners say about their cathedral (which has no spire) it is utterly pointless.
  • NY Governor George Pataki (R) is not recovering from surgery. Why, if you are not related or a NY resident, should you care? He has made presidential noises in past months and it is a sure bet that he will not run again to remain in Albany. A dark horse? Yes, and this makes it all worse. You don't want a diseased president, do you? Well, they are all (to some extent) symptoms of systemic disease, but you get the picture. We are talking actual contagion here.
  • Maybe this is the best man for the White House in 2008: Michael Jesus Archangel (R-Michigan). He is both Jesus AND the archangel Michael. Talk about yer holy package deal. I like the machete in the picture and his website is worth a read. Well, it proves that, in theory, any native born person over the age of 35 can run for president.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Can But Won't (Or And Did)

Today in particular, one such as myself feels compelled to speak on the subject of the "holy day of obligation" among people in personal relationships. Yes, I am naturally speaking of Valentine's Day.

One such as myself, you ask? As a relatively embittered and cynical person who would love to believe that people and their motives are inherently good (but keeps being presented evidence by the cosmos that they are the exact opposite), I also am in the delicate position of having a majority of my friends involved in relationships, either marital or otherwise.

Should this limit what I can and cannot say? Of course not.

So, indeed, what could I say (I am not saying that I will) about this hallowed day?

First, I could indeed make the practical and historical argument that the personality of St. Valentine is not on sure ground at all. It could have been one of three martyrs or simply (according to the ancient Romans), the day on which birds seemed to begin to mate. So there is that that I could, but may not, say.

I could also point out that this is another commercialized holiday where the feelings of people (the basest of these, I might add) are played upon by countless industries to fetishize these emotions, commodify them and make them just another part of our consumer society. That, however, would be too easy and not totally consonant with my beliefs. I think that if you are clever enough, within the law, to create demand out of nowhere and bilk idiots of their disposable income, you deserve every penny you earn and I only wish that I was as clever as you.

I could, it seems, extend that argument to the nature of personal relationships themselves. I could say that the exchange of gifts and, euphamistically, physical expression of emotion are part and parcel of the same process of exchange. Gifts are given, and in return, acts are performed. One might counter by saying that these certain salacious acts are done of will and for genuine feeling for the person. It cannot be argued, however, that it is natural for human beings to reciprocate when given something of value. What form that reciprocation takes, I would maintain, is not as important as the fact that it takes place. I could even go as far to invoke the crass desigantion of this day as "National Steak and a Blowjob Day." That is to say, that is something I could say.

Taking this argument even further, how can one argue that directly exchanging goods of value for services, be they "romantic" or otherwise is wrong? I am, naturally, speaking of prostitution. What laws that prohibit prostitution basically say is that you can yield temporary sovereignty over your body and its functions for free but not for a price.

How, then, is this consistant with a view that someone should be compensated for their exertions? Well, I guess they are, but why be indirect about it? It is when the exchange of money and the exchange of "emotion" come into direct contango that the problems seem to arise. Set this dichotomy in a society that has its moral basis (and, rightly or wrongly, many of its legal strictures) and very foundation in a group of Protestant English religious fanatics, and you are bound to get some interesting notions of marriage, relationships, prostitution and sexual morality in general. One could argue that.

We could take another path, and I could argue that only a fool or a slave willingly surrenders freedom for security and it is no different in a personal relationship than in society as a whole. At the end of the day, one should at least have dominion over one's person and mind. To not have this is slavery. When in a relationship, it seems that this freedom is abrogated time and again for the purpose of compromise and security, knowing that to render such freedom might serve to protect the basis of the relationship, whatever it may be. Interpersonal relatioships should be for the mutual betterment of the minds and souls of those involved and this condition cannot occur amongst unfree actors. What results is a dangerous mix of freedom and domination wherein neither party seems completely at ease with the results at any given time. That is, for example, another thing I could assert.

In closing, I realize that a lot of what I said above is hypothetical. It may not seem to apply to your situation. Remember, of course, that this is what I COULD say, not what I am indeed saying. Because someone would have to be a really horrible human being to believe those things I said, right?


Monday, February 13, 2006

Why The Irish Don't Speak Irish

This is a bit of a "recycled post." I wrote this piece for a discussion forum in one of my graduate seminars here at the UW. It is in a seminar concerning language, nationality and migration. My argument seems to be that the Irish language is certainly a huge part of Irish national identity but no-one seems to care that hardly anyone speaks/learns it anymore.

Let me know what you think.

First, how many speakers of Irish are there in the Republic of Ireland today? According to statistics provided by the Irish Government in 2004, there are 1,570,894 speakers in total. Of these, 339,541 reportedly use Irish everyday as their primary language. To give a little perspective, the population of Ireland is 3,917,203. Clearly, Irish is a minority language at least as a primary use language is concerned. Yet, Ireland is officially a bilingual state (Irish and English). Irish will even become a working language of the EU in 2007, owing no small part to the Irish presidency of the EU in 2003.

What is the connection between the Irish language and the history of Ireland in the last 200 years? To start with another question, when was the last time in Ireland's history when Irish was spoken by more than half of the population? According to the 1841 census (which yielded a population of 8.1 million), about 4 million of these reportedly spoke Irish as their primary language (1).

Who were these people, broadly speaking? They were laborers, cottiers, the working-class and generally the poorer and lower reaches of Irish society in what was still a predominantly rural society. They were concentrated mostly on the west coast in such places as Donegal and Galway (2).By 1851, however, the situation was markedly different. After the depridations caused by the Great Famine (1846-1851), it was reported that less than 25% of the remaining population spoke Irish at all and less than 5% were monolingual (3). This started what was to be seen as a long cycle of decline in daily usage of the Irish language. Why?

Demographically, the population was decimated by the Famine. Institutionally, English had (especially since the Act of Union in 1801) become the language of state, law, commerce, industry and (increasingly) church. Knowledge of English equalled social mobility. It was also the case that those who immigrated during the Famine were not Irish speakers nor were they the poorest people in Ireland. They were mostly English speakers from the south and west. This left a significant vacuum of population that needed to fill the essential workings of administration, business and "the system" in Ireland - a development that occasioned many more to learn and use English alone (4). This was also aided by the establishment of a system of national schools in 1830 that didn't instruct pupils in Irish at all (5).

Bearing this in mind, how did the Irish language become a central plank in the platforms of Irish nationalists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? After the collapse of the Fenian movement in the 1860's and the disappointment of the Land League in the 1880's, Irish nationalism, which had become political rather than revolutionary since the time of Daniel O'Connell in the 1830's, changed dramatically after the death of Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891. There were two dominant strains of nationalism: the old political nationalism represented by the Irish Parliamentary Party and John Redmond. There was also a new nascent cultural nationalism pioneered by Eoin MacNeill, Patrick Pearse and the Gaelic League. A central focus of this cultural nationalism was the "de-anglicization" of Ireland and the return of the Irish language.When did the leadership change?

After the Third Home Rule Bill passed in April of 1914, Redmond and the IPP thought that their path had finally made some real progress. This legislation was tabled indefinitiely upon the outbreak of the Great War in August of 1914. This blow proved fatal to the political nationalists, and it was from these elements (together with the cultural nationalists and socialist trade unions) that the new nationalism was formed, with the revitalization of the Irish language as a primary goal (6). It was this group that led the Easter Rising in 1916, presided over the rise and victory of Sinn Fein in the 1918 parliamentary elections and led Ireland into battle in the Irish Civil War (or Anglo-Irish War) in 1919-1921. This revolutionary generation would preside over Irish language policy for years to come (7).

Between 1925 and 1937, the constitution of what would become the Republic of Ireland was debated. The taioseach (prime minister), Eamon de Valera was in the forefront of this process. He fought with the IRA in the civil war and was a fluent Irish speaker. Under his leadership, the Irish language became a central part of the legal and cultural basis of the new republic. This was enshrined in the 1937 constitution which de Valera helped to draft (8).This did not, as we have seen, match the situation "on the ground."

Independence from Britain did not immediately spark feelings among the Irish people for independence from its language. As the "founding generation" passed from political life in the 1950's, a new generation of Irish politicans came to prominence and the Irish language was not a primary concern anymore. Starting with Taioseach Sean Lemass in 1961, Irish leaders began to look to industry, trade and a greater role for Ireland in Europe as their primary goal.

It was in this period that the "leakiness" of the official status of the Irish language began to show and it continues to the present. All legislation is supposed to be published in Irish and English, but it rarely is. To recieve a Leaving Certificate from an Irish university, students used to have to pass an exam in Irish, but this requirement was done away with in the 1970's. Also gone in 1971 was the requirement of Irish proficiency for positions in the civil service, military or Garda Siochana. This was all coupled with the increased move to the Gaeltacht (the Irish speaking areas) of English speakers and the general effects of Ireland's "turn towards Europe" beginning with their entrance into the Common Market in 1972 and leading through the "Celtic Tiger" of economic expansion in the 1990's (9).

In attempts to address this, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. It's intent was to expand the use of Irish in public lige and protect the linguistic and cultural integrity of the Gaeltacht (10). This act has not been in force for long enough to see any real effects on the state of the Irish language. The department responsible for the enforcement of the act, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs, is (if their missions statements are to be believed) committed to the preservation of the irish language and the cultural milieu of its use. To do any less, the department believes, would be to relegate the key aspects of irish culture to the mists of history and to rob the Irish diaspora worldwide of their cultural and linguistic roots. In today's Ireland, however, this department often loses out for funding and support as Ireland continues to develop into a "modern" European state.

On the other hand, one can understand the position that the government finds itself in. Why continue to finance something that seems to inspire so little interest among the citizens? It is well for the diaspora to care about the language, but in the strict purview of government finance, is this a central concern? Has the Gaeltacht become a sort of linguistic cultural park financed with taxpayer dollars, effectively on life support? To quote one of my favorite television programs of all time, Yes, Minister, subsidies should be for art and culture and not for things people actually want. It is for things that they ought to have but don't.

1. Gearoid O Tuathaigh, Ireland Before the Famine: 1798-1848 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1972), 157.
2. Brian O'Cuiv, A View of the Irish Language (Dublin: Irish Government Stationery Office, 1969).
3. O Tuathaigh, 158.
4. Ibid. (for the situation in Ireland). For immigration to the United States, see Reginald Byron, Irish America (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 52-53. For the Irish diaspora in general, refer to Tim Pat Coogan, Wherever Green Is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora (London: Hutchinson, 2000).
5. R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (London: Penguin, 1988), 341.
6. K. Theodore Hoppen, Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity (London: Longman's, 1989), 130-131.
7. Ibid., 137-138.
8. James Lydon, The Making of Ireland: From Ancient Times to the Present (London: Routledge, 1998), 372-373.
9. See
10. See several of the "sidebar topics" at

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Devil You Know

Well, this is indeed rare.

A political prediction that I made, based on my research, was right on.

According to a new Chicago Tribune/WGN poll, the front-runners in the Illinois governor's race are Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the Democrats and Judy Baar Topinka for the GOP.

If you read the Trib article, or just have a general sense of people and their level of satisfaction with Blago, one might wonder why he is in such a commanding lead. The old idea of the "incumbent's advantage" cannot be discounted. As I pointed out, outside of the Chicago area, Edwin Eisendrath does not have much recognition. Even around Chicago, he is known as a "Lake Shore Liberal," rich, socially liberal, but more retiscent on the wasting state money side. It can also not be ignored that his great moment of fame came over twenty years ago and many voters of today (barring political addicts like myself) don't remember him.

As for the GOP, Topinka's success in office (read: ability to massage the system and not get pinched) and generally moderate (read: unknown) stands on issues make her popular with moderates and some conservatives who are put off by the likes of Jim Oberweis and his "no-immigrants-unless-they-are-cheap-labor-in-my-dairy" stance. The poll states that 59% of likely GOP voters consider immigration reform a necessary plank in the party platform. Remember, though, this is among those identifying themselves as Republicans. While this may have a chilling effect in the primary, this issue will surely be dampened by the time the General Election rolls around in November.

Being a third-party voter, I am rarely ever right when it comes to politics. This, however, seems to be the classic "smell two piles of shit and tell me which smells better" debate.

Devil you know or devil you don't? At the end of the day, aren't they both still bad?

Man Is A Political (Party) Animal

When I was trying to decide what to do to cover the SOTU a while back, I weighed my options. I have no net access at home and I have a laptop computer that can be called "portable" in a loose, somewhat quaint sense. I could have sat here in the computer lab, watched a webcast and blogged real time. That, alas, was also not an option. As liberal as UW-Madison is with the liquor laws, I think a cooler in a computer lab would have been a bit much.

So, we are going low-tech to high(er) tech. Reproduced below for you, transcribed lovingly from the Blatz-soaked originals, is my "notebook" from the SOTU. I must warn you that I write fast and bad and, naturally, alcohol intensifies my already sub-par penmanship. First, a few facts...

Network of Choice - CBS. Why CBS? I also don't have cable and CBS was the least blurry.
Drink(s) of Choice - Blatz with "Sno-Shoe" Shots. Sno-Shoe is, for the uninitated (read:lucky), a 90-proof mix of brandy and peppermint schnapps.
Recording Equipment - OfficeMax legal pad, yellow, letter size and a pen. The barrel of the pen read "Grand Geneva Resort and Spa - Lake Geneva, WI." Yes, you needed to know that.

Without further ado, the notebook for the 2006 SOTU. Bracketed text was added for clarification after the fact.
  • Cindy Sheehan already got arrested. Decided to get it out of the way early.
  • "Pivotal speech?" I think not.
  • "Renewed civility?" No matter how many times, it's still funny.
  • Alito looks like my JR high math teacher.
  • No civility with the midterm elections...What difference between GOP/DEM, [CBS News correspondent John] Roberts???
  • Frist behind the prez. OOOOOHHHH...
  • O.K., isolationism is bad.
  • 122 democracies? Like Singapore?
  • Fight for OUR freedom? O.K., but let others fight for theirs.
  • Man, lotsa history talk, GWB.
  • Sassy wink at dead Marine's family?
  • Egypt, Hamas and Israel - never in a million fucking years.
  • Liberty, the right of all humanity. O.K., natural law.
  • PATRIOT ACT - OH GOD NO!!! So, you don't really buy the whole liberty thing after all?
  • "appropriate members of Congress" decide on wiretaps? FREEDOM/SECURITY...Hilary looks pissed.
  • Econ policy lip service. I agree, but I don't think you really believe it. Isolation is indeed bad.
  • How 'bout 100% tax cuts?
  • Cut the deficit? Not with that defense budget you won't.
  • Nice Clinton joke.
  • HALF-CROWD APPLAUSE...they threw him off!
  • Baby boom commission. O.K. FOR NOW. Why I am against government funded health care.
  • Ouproduce America? NO? Why? UNIONS!
  • Of course Frist likes medical liability reform.
  • We are developing the tube technology.
  • Ethanol? 6 years? Right...
  • Depend on for. oil past? What of global trade?
  • Granted, humanities jobs are NOT high wage.
  • Health of culture, activists courts + marriage, nat. disaster- what a catch-all. Decline? Maybe not
  • Alito and Roberts in one sentence with half a cheer - oh fuck [playing the drinking game as I was, such a response was worth quite a lot].
  • If life begts life, how are stem cells wrong? Seems logical enough
  • No new AIDS infections? Oh, boy...
  • History comes down to choice? How 'bout the choice to blunder?

Insightful? Maybe. Confusing? Sure. Coherent? Not really. In the moment? You bet.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Baseball For Nerds

Drop what you are doing and have some fun!

Play Supreme Court Baseball at the Oyez Project.

Well, I consider it fun so it is probably the exact opposite.

Will Shannon: The Dewar's Profile

Well, not exactly. I thought, however, that I would post something like this to "lighten the mood" after the rather heavy offerings lately. It is like the sorbet after the kielbasa, kraut, potato dumplings and kluski noodles that make up the Polish (I guess) meal that has been this blog.

For a poet, I am a hell of a...whatever it is that I do.

Anyway, thanks to Frema for the rubric

Four jobs I’ve had
1. Plumbing Parts Salesman, Builder's Square, Tinley Park, IL.
2. Overstressed and Hung-over Trading Floor Clerk, Chicago Board Options Exchange.
3. Men's Suit Salesman (less stressed/hung-over), Value City Department Store.
4. Graduate Assistant/Department Bitch, History, De Paul University

Four movies I can watch over and over
1. Fletch
2. Glengarry, Glen Ross
3. Blues Brothers
4. Waking Ned Devine

Four places I have lived
1. Oak Forest, IL (my parent's house)
2. Midlothian, IL (my parent's other house)
3. Rensselaer, IN (collapsing dorm building)
4. Madison, WI (house built in 1866 w/mysterious neighbor)

Four TV shows I love
1. Father Ted
2. Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister
3. The Prisoner (I think just about the best T.V. show ever made)
4. Simpsons/Seinfeld (I consider these part and parcel of my generation's culture)

Four places I’ve vacationed
1. London, UK
2. Lake Geneva, WI
3. Pittsburgh, PA
4. Paris, France

Four of my favorite dishes
1. Italian Beef sandwiches
2. Gyros
3. Kielbasa and anything
4. Anything deep-fried, really

Four sites I visit daily
1. Fucking Myspace
2. Drudge Report
3. This one (naturally)

Four places I would rather be right now
1. In a bar with free drinks and no asshole undergrads.
2. The same, but in Pittsburgh (GO STILLERS!)
3. The same but in the ethereal plane with A.J.P. Taylor, my spititual mentor
4. Some sort of giant gyro spinner carnival ride

Well, there you have it. Pointless? Sure.

I was gonna post the SOTU comments, but I just don't feel like it now.'ll have to wait. Lucky you.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Re-Balancing The Supreme Court?

So the foregone conclusion has come to pass, Samuel Alito, Jr. is our newest justice to SCOTUS, and the conservatives can now have their field day with abortion, gay marriage, eminent domain, pornography, criminals and all of that good stuff that they have been itching to mess with just as soon as that swing vote O'Connor was gone, right?

Not so fast.

Perhaps the scions of the right, in their glee, have forgotten the total count in the court. Let's see...

Traditionally Votes Liberal
Stephen G. Breyer
John Paul Stevens
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
David H. Souter
Anthony Kennedy

Traditionally Votes Conservative
Antonin Scalia
Clarence Thomas
John Roberts
Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Even though those last two can hardly be called "traditional," the count to me seems to be five to four. Now, I realize that there can be more leeway in decision and that these lines are not set in stone (witness the strange alignment of justices in the Kelo v. New London case from last year). These people are, after all, independent brains in bodies that sometimes make decisions based not on their supposed political background but for other factors and occasionally with the law in mind.

On anything historic or potentially divisive, however, these seem to be the lines that would divide the court and the "liberal" justices still have the majority.

When will it be time to worry about the "balance" of the court?

Well, if you put stock in such things, sooner than you may realize.

For you see, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens is eighty-six years old, according to his biography. He was nominated by Gerald Ford in 1975 and is the oldest sitting justice currently on the court. Now, I am not sure about his health, but going by the numbers, he is over the average life expectancy for an American male by over ten years. What the upshot of this is the fact that President Bush may get to make another nomination to the high court before his term is over.

What the Democrats must hope for, therefore, is to win the 2008 Presidential Election (no mean feat, that) AND have Stevens survive long enough to be replaced by a Democratic president. This means nothing, as there are multiple cases of justices countering the political persuasion of their respective appointers. Stevens was appointed by Ford, Kennedy by Reagan, Souter by G.H.W. Bush. They can go turncoat to the respective cause at any point.

Or, if you like it a bit less cynical, they truly fulfill their role as members of an independent judiciary, judging matters great and small on their merits and not as a "thank you" to the president that appointed them to a life term.

See, folks, that is the part that should REALLY worry you. One branch of the government that is headed by an unelected board of people who serve until they retire or die. A branch that was never intended to "legislate," but to make rulings on legislation and its concurrence with the law of the land.

In the end, it is again the system and not the situation that is unbalanced.

Dithering On Doyle

Since I wrote two weeks ago, much has happened in the life of Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D).

Or has it?

He had a major victory when his veto of the concealed carry law was upheld by two switched votes. I think that concealed carry should be legal and encouraged everywhere. An armed society is a polite society. Sure, there are risks with allowing people to carry guns everywhere, but I will always maintain that the majority of gun violence does not take place using legal, licenced firearms carried by qualified individuals. Also, the police cannot always be counted on to be there or to do their jobs. It makes everyone a first responder. I digress a little, but I think responsible firearm ownership forms one of the pillars of a free society. Not in Wisconsin, though, I guess.

He is also leading his opponents in fundraising for the 2006 gubernatorial race. This would be encouraging for his backers, but the fall-off in the second half of the year shows a bit of weakness. With all of the recent give-backs and general financing wierdness, some of this "good" news may be dampened a bit.

Where does all of this leave Gov. Doyle? I wager that the price of Doyle shares experienced some volatility, but are as of now unchanged. He seems to be competing with his opponents, but in a state where Republican voters outmatch Democrats almost 5 to 1, it is anyone's guess.

Perhaps he is not as squeaky clean as before but, hey, HE'S A POLITICIAN. It's like eating or sleeping for them. They have to do it; it's part of their lifestyle.

Doesn't make it better, just makes it clearer.