Monday, 28 November 2016

Collapse of the Soviet Union

With the death of one of the last Communist dictators — former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro — it might be a good time to relate part of an article from Rodney Castleden's book Events that changed the World viz-a-viz the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Communism destroyed more lives than any other organisation or event in the 20th century, mainly through the murders of citizens by the regimes that were forced upon them. The casualties were often the consequence of the conflicts in which Soviet Union became involved as they attempted to spread the communist system throughout the world. Civil and human rights were denied while the socialist system of central control over food and goods production impoverished many people who weren't part of the top elite of the Communist hierarchy:
The world watched in amazement, in December of 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 separate countries. To the West, its collapse was seen as a victory for freedom, a triumph for democracy and evidence that capitalism was superior to socialism. The United States rejoiced as it witnessed its formidable enemy dropping to its knees, thereby ending the long struggle that become known as the Cold War. In fact the break up of the Soviet Union was so momentous it led to the reform of political, economical and military alliances all over the world. 
There were warning signs before the collapse, and many people picked up on this several years before its actual demise. Some of the member states within the Soviet Union sensed that the centre was weakening. The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, started agitating for their independence. They were greatly heartened by Poland's success in gaining its independence. In January 1991, Soviet paratroopers were sent in following independence demonstrations; they stormed the television station in Vilnius, Lithuania, killing 13 independence demonstrators. A similar Russian raid on Riga in Latvia led to the killing of four demonstrators. In February, a referendum in Lithuania produced a majority in favour of independence from Russia. The following month referendums in Latvia and Estonia produced a similar result. 
The article goes on to relate how Soviet president, Gorbachev, tried to maintain the union by proposing a new federation giving member states greater autonomy. However, all countries of the former Soviet Union gradually broke free while adopting western standards of administration and democracy with free enterprise. Many became members of the EU and NATO.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Muhammad's Return to Mecca

With so much death and suffering going on in Muslim-dominated areas — and certain groups attempting to impose their understanding of Islam on the rest of us by tyrannical means — it might be an opportune time to reproduce the following article from a book called Events that changed the World by Rodney Castleden.
Muhammad claimed to be God's mouthpiece, but was extremely cautious in the way he asserted the claim. For three years his followers formed a secret society, and before that there was a revelation on Mount Hirah near Mecca. The earliest revelations took the form of solemn utterances which rhymed and were revealed only to his nearest relatives. He would speak in a trance and followers wrote down the utterances. The revelations would eventually make up the Qur'an. 
This early work was done in private within the family but, by the time Muhammad made his first appearance as a public preacher in Mecca in 616, he already had a united following. As he became more successful, some of his followers were persecuted and he found refuge for them in Axum. The Abyssinian king took the side of the refugees, apparently thinking that they were persecuted Christians — completely misunderstanding who and what they were. They were nevertheless being supported, and this diplomatic victory infuriated the Meccan leaders who blockaded Muhammad in one quarter of the city. 
Muhammad was glad, for his own safety, to have an invitation to go to Yathrib (later named Medina) as dictator; the citizens at Yathrib suffered from feuding and wanted an outsider to act as arbitrator. Accordingly he went into exile to Medina and 16 July 622 is taken as the start of the Muslim era.The Meccan authorities were alarmed at the prospect of a hostile regime in control at Medina, which lay on an important caravan route, and plans were laid to have Muhammad killed. The Prophet, as he came to be known, took temporary refuge in a cave, delaying his arrival at Medina until 20 September (the Jewish Day of Atonement) in 622. 
From this point on, Muhammad's power grew. He bound his followers to himself and then to one another by a range of ties, instituting brotherhoods. At first, Muhammad seems to have courted an alliance with the Jews, but found no possibility of compromise with them on religious questions. Islam began to evolve its distinct practices and customs to distinguish it clearly from other sects. The spread of Islam was swift and proof of conversion was reduced to a simple test, the expression of belief in Allah and Muhammad. 
He repelled an attempt by the Meccans to capture Medina. Mecca itself fell to Muhammad and his Islamic warriors in 629. It was an historic moment; the moment when Meccans had to recognise him as chief and prophet. Remarkably, within the year, Muhammad had control over the whole of Arabia. Islam was now firmly established as a religion of regional importance, and its future as one of the world's major religions was assured.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Sensational Irish Rugby Victory

Last Saturday afternoon, on 5 November 2016, the Irish Rugby team achieved one of the greatest victories in Irish sporting history when they defeated the supreme aristocrats of the game, New Zealand's All Blacks, with a score line of 40 points to 29. This victory was achieved after 111 years of trying and ended New Zealand's current 18-game winning streak.

It is typical of an Irish team to achieve something spectacular when least expected. For me, this was reminiscent of Ronnie Delany's 1956 Olympic gold medal win in Melbourne, Australia and Tipperary's 2011 All-Ireland Minor Football win over Dublin.

The venue of last Saturday's game was also significant. Soldier Field is home to the Chicago Bears and is one of the Windy City's most famous landmarks. It was also one of the prime venues during the "Golden Age of Sports". On September 23, 1927, it hosted the epic Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney heavyweight boxing rematch featuring the controversial long count as a crowd of 104,000 looked on. Having knocked down Tunney, Dempsey went to the wrong corner. By the time the referee directed him to the neutral corner, five seconds had passed before the count started. Tunney, the champ, got up at 9 (which should have been 14) and went on to defeat Dempsey.

In 1944, at the height of World War II, Soldier Field hosted 150,000 spectators for a wartime visit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and, in 1962, thousands turned up at the same venue to hear evangelist Billy Graham. Soldier Field was also the birthplace of the first Special Olympic Games in 1968.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Great Win for Padraig Harrington

I was delighted to learn that likeable sportsman, Padraig Harrington, has won the Portugal Masters Golf Championship. This was the 31st win of his professional career and his 15th on the European tour.

Having won three golf majors in the mid 2000's — his last major win was the US PGA in 2008 — he went through a barren period when the victories just wouldn't come. His most recent win came in the Honda Classic in March last year.

Let us hope that this is a precursor to even more success before Padraig Harrington finally decides to rest on his laurels.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Fine Article by Ciaran Conlon

Ciaran Conlon's article in last Thursday's Irish Independent caught my attention. Published under the headline Despite it's Trump tactics, SF is likely to be big loser after Budget 2017, I will quote hereon some of the more pertinent passages:
Donal Trump has played on voters fears, insecurities and disaffections with government generally to run one of the most toxic, dishonest and dangerous political campaigns in history to bring himself and his moronic nonsense to the brink of the US presidency.
 In comparing Trump's campaign style with SF, Conlon writes
Both Trump and SF:
  • Insist that everything is going to hell, no progress is being made on anything — even though simple factual sources can disprove the thesis — and only a vote for them can save the country or fix your problems; 
  • Don't like their history being scrutinised, but still trade on a version of that history to play to target voters; 
  • Declare themselves to be passionate defenders of the 'ordinary voter' even though one was born into wealth and privilege and the others are apologists for terrorists who murdered 'ordinary' people and destroyed the communities of 'ordinary' workers; 
  • Have no interest in detailed plans or policies that can be implemented but prefer to campaign in broad brush strokes that play to existing fears and frustrations without ever thinking about the impact of their pronouncements; 
  • Would have a devastating impact on their countries if they got into government.
This is the most important aspect of the Trump/Sinn Fein approach to politics. It's combined 'bullying and bulls*****ing' style might win coverage, hoodwink a certain number of voters and put them close to real-life decision making in government. But we know it works out badly for the very voters that have been hoodwinked...
That's why the centre has to hold in Irish politics. And in a potentially good sign for those who want the centre to hold, Sinn Fein could be the big losers out of Budget 2017... 
Both larger centre parties now have an incentive to talk up — at least not to talk down — the successes of the Irish people and that means less air time and profile for Sinn Fein's constant rejection of any progress made by the Irish people...
The next election may take place in a very different environment to the last one. A degree of stability and incremental progress versus uncertainty and more Trump-style campaigning from Sinn Fein...
If the centre can hold over the coming period, an inelegant and hopefully temporary political solution may just do the country some service.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless.
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run,
To bend with apples the mossed cottage trees,
And fill all with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while they hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives and dies;
And full-grown lambs bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

— John Keats

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Labour Unrest

The present labour agitation at Dublin Bus is driven, to a large extent, by trade union leaders trying to justify their huge salaries and showing their claws.

Trade unions have no place amongst the major employers in this country where workers are well represented by committees. The weak position of the present government, due to the idiotic — and, in some cases, vindictive — voting patterns in the recent general election, has given extra leverage to the public sector trade unions.

I am old enough to remember the 1950's when employment in this country was provided, in the main, by inefficient state companies while young men and women were leaving in droves to work in the UK and further afield. The national debt rose rapidly to unsustainable levels and, despite the efforts of some governments in the intervening years, it has remained that way ever since.

In the 70's and 80's, trade unions caused much disruption in this country while taking their cue, to a large extent, from Militant Tendency in the UK. This anarchist group tried hard to destroy the British economy and would have succeeded except for the tough line taken by Margaret Thatcher and her government.

In this country, one trade union leader made the public comment that "company profits were unpaid wages!". This is a line drawn from the writings of German economist, Karl Marx, whose ideology sowed the seeds for a movement which wreaked death, terror and poverty on millions of people in Europe, Russia and beyond throughout most of the 20th century.

In the case of Dublin Bus, the government should heed the lessons of our thriving national bus network by gradually putting routes out to tender under fair and equitable conditions.