Kerryman Jokes

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08:  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird (L) during a press conference after a bilateral meeting at the State Department February 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. Kerry said that the U.S. government continues to evaluate options to solve problematic relations with both the Syrian and Iranian governments.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)


My mother’s family were all Keenans and O’Connells, Irish as Irish could be and generally proud enough of it to make it known to whoever would listen. We made a couple of trips to Ireland, in 1985 and 1993, including a visit to Daniel O’Connell’s grave. This was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.


The first is that, like many venerated figures from history (we’re discussing the Irish Liberator here), the story behind the man is terribly interesting and not as unambiguous as what was presented to me in my youth. Mr. O’Connell really did oppose the union of Great Britain and Ireland and worked for the rights of Catholics to sit in Parliament, but it seems he was also a bit of a high lifer and not uninterested in forwarding the cause of Daniel O’Connell along with that of the downtrodden Irish. The Wikipedia article on him is enough to whet my appetite (


The second part of this, the part that leads to an observation or two about John Kerry, and possibly about his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, is that our friends in County Sligo, including Bert, who hailed from Galway, were given to telling us myriad Kerryman jokes. The Irish are constantly the butt of jokes in England relating to mental feebleness, laziness, maladresse and a panoply of sins. Of course the Irish have to have someone as the butt of their jokes: rather than going abroad, they chose the men of Kerry in the far southwest corner of the Isle to stand as the object of their humour. So it turns out that the Liberator/Emancipator was from Carhirsiveen, a burg on the way out to the tip of the Ring of Kerry at Derry Nane. He was, therefore, a Kerryman through and through.


So…I caught a bit of a presser featuring Kerry and Baird and was horrified to hear Kerry mispronounce Kazakhstan and refer to the Prime Minister of Mexico in doing something of an imitation of the man to whom he lost the 2004 election (not lost if you follow the writings of the ever-incendiary Greg Palast). It isn’t that I miss Hilary (I winced at her platitudes and lies), but to come out of the gate so weakly hardly inspires confidence that the world is heading into calmer waters with Kerry at the helm. The fact that he chose to meet with Baird before getting to some of the other bagatelles that confront American “diplomacy” speaks more to the fossil fuel lobby than to any sentiment that Canada is really such a good pal. I have to say, too, that I tend to see in Mr. Baird an air of someone just arrived from a frat party. He has a ready tongue and an aggressive and overbearing demeanour that admits no debate. Should we be surprised when an appointee of this nature, one Patrick Brazeau, steps over the line? Was his role to be the First Nations representation in a party that militates to erase any distinction for First Nations and to remove all political and environmental barriers to unbridled exploitation of Canada’s resources? Whatever it was, and whatever Baird, Van Loan, Toews, Flaherty, Ambrose, MacKay, Kent and the like may say, the joke is mostly on us, the citizens of Canada from all ethnic backgrounds. Is what the current bunch in Ottawa doing to First Nations so different from what the English did in Ireland? Always worth a thought in passing.

All the News

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.

-Ben Hecht


A quickie update: seems there are many who are having similar thoughts.

While it may have been staid and a little stodgy, the old CBC had a ton of good content and listening to The World At Six used to leave me with more a feeling of being informed.


I made a mistake: I watched some television news. I must have been bored, or I would have left the room. Wait, I never get bored. It must be some twisted sense of nostalgia and longing for a time when I felt as though I at least had an inkling of what was going on in the world, and that through the lens of newspapers, radio and television. I think most people don’t like being in the room with me when i watch news, or listen to it on the radio, given that there’s this almost constant stream of what I would call counter comment and frequent interjections of judgment of value stemming from variations on bovine excrement. Yesterday, there was an unbelievable tsunami of hand-wringing and chatter over the eventual disappearance of the penny: no one mentioned a thing about devaluation and debasement. There was much gushing about Beyoncé and her performance, including an extended piece on Newsworld about a new biopic about the performer, something we could expect from the entertainment shows, but hardly worthy of a mention on a serious news network. There were reports of missing people who are still missing, missing pets who’ve been found and a ton of human interest stories that paper over the very real shabbiness in the fabric of society. There was, lo and behold, a story about an IPP on the north end of Vancouver Island, but a failure to mention the terms of the contract which, typically, includes provision for the buying of the resulting electricity by BC Hydro at multiples of the market rates at which the utility will be able to sell the power, and, to cap it off, much time for Minister to spout about possible changing conditions that mean that these IPPs will be a bargain in the future. But the absolute killer was when the ominous music came through the set, that Daah duh-duh-duh daah dhu-duh-duh daah that tells me that we’re into the next Olympic cycle/blitz, and that all media will be devoting precious resources to the least related Olympic factoids. At least this time around, the proceedings will be held in a venue far enough not to affect events in this lovely neck of the woods.





A Poor Substitute



Food banks made their first appearances hereabouts circa 1980 with the idea that they would be a short term stop gap measure to deal with a sharp downturn in the economy resulting in a decline in employment and in many families having to rely on help while they looked for new work and adjusted to more straitened circumstances. This support was supposed to just fade to a memory as the economy picked up, as people found the next wave of well-paid work and life returned to normal.
We are now thirty years into this process, and food banks have more patrons than ever, and not likely because people want to be leaning on the institutions to feed themselves: the jobs never came back in their previous relative numbers, and few of them as well-paid, while the price of food, energy, housing and clothing has continued to rise at a pace that outstrips what were already pretty meagre social supports.
I also remember pretty clearly the end of the Terry Fox run and the subsequent agony of keeping a public vigil as Terry wound down to the inevitable death in the summer of 1981, just as I remember being astounded at the outpouring of sympathy that accompanied millions of dollars in donations to support Terry’s cause of research into a cure for cancer. I have been party to Fox runs for three decades and have watched the total funds raised in his name balloon toward the half-billion dollar mark. Despite his efforts and those of so many since, cancer seems more prevalent than ever with each passing year, where it is easy for organizer of events benefitting the cancer research establishment to speculate that it’s a rare person who hasn’t been touched by the disease, either personally, or through close friends and family members who have had to deal with the disease.
When the National Film Board of Canada released the film Pink Ribbons, Inc. in the fall of 2011, it helped to crystallize a series of observations that had come unbidden about charity and the role it plays in our society.  As I move into advanced years, I have developed the perspective that allows me to look back and assess the effectiveness of the generosity of some and the efforts expended on behalf of all of us in a wide variety of domains. Do we find it frustrating that huge sums of money can disappear into the maw of the charitable machine in all its incarnations and be assured that we still have abject poverty all over the world, including in some of the most prosperous nations, that cancer hasn’t been beaten, that AIDS is still a threat, that clean drinking water and decent housing cannot be counted as a bottom-line facet of life, sometimes even in wealthy jurisdictions.
There is a chilling little sequence in Pink Ribbons, Inc., a short shot of Ronald Reagan in the early years of his presidency, outlining the expanded role of private industry and the charitable sector in the business of providing for the less fortunate in society, essentially affirming without stating so that the American Federal government was on the cusp of abdicating much of the responsibility for the health and welfare of a good part of its population to the tender mercies of those who might have either the business acumen to wring a profit out of the endeavour or the generosity of those well enough endowed to give back at their discretion. This declaration essentially meant that people couldn’t choose to act in concert through the government to ameliorate health or social conditions, that citizens would have to work through for-profit organizations, meaning that shareholders and executives got paid before clients received benefits, or through charitable organizations who would have to cast around for funding through appeals to the generous or through grant applications. In this, we see the rise of the grant writer and the charitable executive as well as the advent of a new type of organization that raises funds for any organization in return for a piece of the action. This situation implies that concerned citizens are blocked from seeing a health or social emergency and acting together to resolve the crisis, hopefully with minimum fuss and interference from bureaucracy and the delays caused by wrangling necessary funding and other resources.
Charity has also typically dealt with symptoms rather than with root causes, something made abundantly clear in the Pink Ribbons, Inc. film which makes mention of the millions dedicated to the structures searching for a cure, and highlights the lack of funding to study the causes and the suspected links to the 80 000 to 100 000 unregulated chemicals that permeate our living space, our food, our cosmetics, our building materials and the air we breathe. As well, when we participate in charitable events, or even just write a cheque, we generate that warm and fuzzy feeling that we are, at heart, good people who are concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings. This allows us to block out the general mess in which we are all forced participants, to address crises in a piecemeal fashion and to suppress the sense of outrage that we ought perhaps to feel over letting a significant portion of humanity suffer hunger, cold, poor housing, lack of education and a sense of being able to participate fully in the affairs of society. When we peel away the rescue aspect of charity, we’re left with a power imbalance that is degrading and alienating to the recipient and falsely exculpatory to the donor. We are made to feel good as we roll out the best of our intentions, but fail to engage in the kind of long-term thinking that might produce real progress toward eliminating the circumstances that produce poverty, hunger, inequity, disease and a toxic, degraded environment.
Charity should be abolished; and be replaced by justice.
— Norman Bethune


Worth a look, though the complete film will provide a more in-depth look and answer some of the questions raised in the trailer:

Pink Ribbons, Inc. Trailer

A succinct visual representation of the charity versus justice dichotomy:

First As Tragedy, Then As Farce (Animation)

(There is a ton of other good stuff on the RSA site! I also really like Annie Leonard’s work, definitely worth a gander for those who haven’t dug in already.)

Hey! I just found this (silly me) bit that is very much on point: