Monthly Archives: September 2008

Comic Sans

By David Manning

This article was originally published in the Irish Left Review (28/08/08).

Journalists are too often criticised for being pessimistic, lacking balance and failing to take due recognition of good news. One Irish Independent writer referred to this alleged phenomenon as the “doom and gloom blackout of the Irish Times”. Admittedly, few journalists are known for injecting humour into their work, without, that is, compromising the integrity of the analysis. There is though a little acknowledged strain of dark satire coursing through the veins of Irish journalism.

In the last two weeks for instance, Irish Times readers were treated to three examples of contemporary Irish wit – John Waters feigned a poor impression of a climatologist, tax exile Denis O’Brien delivered a sermon on what to do with our tax fund and Desmond Fennell despaired at the imminent loss of the colonies.

In Forecasting based on climate change is delusional’ John Waters sought to distance discussion of this summers persistent wet weather from the broader climatic issue – anthropogenic global warming. He persuades, “the science of forecasting on the basis of climate change is still in its infancy.” It is “so complex and the variables so numerous that the sensible scientists say they just don’t know.” Though he admits “Yes, the earth is warming.” But are there really so many unknowns that we can sensibly abandon science in favour of John Waters’ prediction of continued unpredictability?

The relationship between climate and Global Warming is undoubtedly very complex, however, space travel is complex, nuclear fission is complex – yet we don’t trust non-experts to shape our understanding of them. The raising of arbitrary standards against the science of Global Warming appears to have a direct relationship with the recognised implications of it. It calls for drastic potentially costly change, and that kind of change is vehemently resisted by powerful vested interests. As Stephen Poole noted in his book Unspeak, the very adoption of the term ‘climate change’ was a calculated re-branding of Global Warming, induced in a large part by pressure from major oil producers – enabling greater leeway for ’scepticism’.

The new term elevated two variables into the discourse, while at the same time removing two other important ones. ‘Climate’ opened the door for common confusion with weather, and ‘change’, denoting neither a positive or negative move, with indecision. This permitted far greater, though still misplaced, confidence in anecdotal refutation of scientific theory. The loss of the word ‘global’ was also an important modification in scope, the universal nature of the problem had been removed – and sceptics were free to undermine it by reference to localised ‘inconsistencies’. But no human experience can quantify ‘global’ changes, certainly not over decades and centuries – therefore the need to experiment, to test and develop theories and create models to predict reactions becomes self evident.

As Mark Lynas wrote in the New Scientist ‘if it wasn’t uncertain it wouldn’t be science‘, but uncertainty in science is very different from the uncertainty of Mr. Waters’ predictions. Scientists are agreed that ‘we cannot look at climate forecasts the same way we view weather predictions’. However, since the expectation is for gradual progress in terms of improving climate modelling, policy makers and planners cannot delay action in the hope of a scientific ‘leap’, they must act on the best information available. If the evolving models provide our best understanding of the future, the question is, do we take advantage of the wealth of knowledge coalesced by the scientific community or do we opt for idle speculation.

Denis O’Brien’s sermon on the economy It’s all about restoring our confidence and self-belief was a welcome addition to the debate. His refusal to contribute his fair share of taxes to that fund should in no way preclude him from telling us how to spend it – irony is not a crime. Just as General Augusto Pinochet was free to bore Chilean readers on the injustices he suffered upon his arrest in London for the alleged murders, tortures and disappearances he was responsible for in Chile, and just as Condoleezza Rice was not heckled in the press while travelling round the Caucasus, en route to force a deal to prolong a Middle Eastern occupation, for that ole ‘do as I say, not as I do’ routine – both signing a deal with Poland for a ballistic missile system on the Russia border, and the next day criticising Russia for military escalation in another border state.

An unusual display of doublespeak Denis O’Brien’s offering was nonetheless. He suggests we should concern ourselves with ‘restoring self confidence and belief’ by employing a corporate mentality, a mentality diagnosed as psychopathic by Joel Bakan in The Corporation, in order to ‘boost revenues and reduce costs’. Now when you hear ‘reduce costs’ in the corporate sphere, it invariably means one or all of a few things, reducing wages, cutting staff numbers or moving to Mumbai. The repercussions of the corporate mentality are evidenced seemingly daily, with numerous foreign corporations hauling anchor and setting sail for greener pastures.

O’Brien invokes the workers least popular lesson in doublespeak, the concept of ‘pay increases’ below the rate of inflation. Thus O’Brien both predicts that the value of your house will decrease and then advocates that the value of your pay check should also. So essentially, make us jobless, homeless and then ‘reduce public expenditure’- mass immigration is one way to go about it I guess. But perhaps, the real solution lies not in what he says, but what he doesn’t say. Denis O’Brien has amassed enormous wealth through his business ventures in Ireland, and has expanded his empire globally on the back of those profits, none of which are taxed as he resides overseas – the lesson being – let us cease to plough money into roads, hospitals and schools and lets all move to Malta.

In the Grim reality of why the West’s white race is now a dying breed’ Desmond Fennell warns of the decline of white birth rates in North America. Fennell begins by informing readers that “the news came from the U.S.”, conjuring up images of bygone days when all news didn’t come from the U.S., as if it were messaged from the colonies. He writes, the white westerner “overflowed from Europe to populate much of the world“, suggesting that at one stage Europe was full and its inhabitants were simply forced from a full receptacle into an empty one. A justification, noted by historian Howard Zinn, eagerly employed by early colonial settlers, who declared the Americas a ‘vacuum’, as the natives had failed to ’subdue’ the land. The Americas were of course not empty; it was not an overflow container for unsustainable population growth in Europe. The growth of white America corresponded directly with the often violent decline of non-white America.

The U.S. has been dominated by whites for less than 400 years. Surely the title of his piece should have read, if the author was more honest about his interpretation of the data that the U.S. is returning to non-whiteness. Fennell argues that White’s are a dying breed who are failing to reproduce: “the will to reproduce does not make sense to them“, but with this he underhandedly co-opts the underlying threat that the phrase ‘dying breed’ exacts. The ‘white race’ is the wealthiest, most influential and militarily powerful race in the U.S. If increased affluence, longer lives and military dominance are signs of a dying breed and the ‘white race’ is truly dying, we can be sure of one thing – unlike other less fortunate civilisations, they are being killed with kindness.

While these satires are not simply digested; and while it often takes time and considerable effort to fully realise the complexity at the root of these whimsical jigs, when you do put in the effort, you can be assured a suitable reward. Perhaps for clarity, and to speed up the process, these satirical monologues could be printed in Comic Sans.


1. Details on the uncertainty of climate modeling.

2. Article Get Off the Fence on Global Warming.

3. Letter from Pinochet to the Chilean people describing his ‘ordeal’ while under house arrest in Britain.

4. Sunday Business Post article from 2001 on that strange ‘Telenor’ contribution to Fine Gael

Photo of the Irish Times building in Tara Street taken by Cian Ginty and was originally posted on his blog Blurred Keys.