We all binge drinkers now, Nanny says so.

By Michael Dwyer


christmas-pudding-on-red-tableclothFor the love of God, stop ! Whatever it is that you are eating, put it down. Bin it .If you are drinking something, pour it away. It it almost certainly poison. Studies are increasing clear that there is a very good chance that we may die. Of Something. Sometime. Somewhere. The cause may very well be something we ate, or drank, or touched, or smelled, or inhaled, or injected, or looked at through a telescope on a mountain someplace actually rather pretty(which just makes it all the more sinister)

The report du jour is brought to us by the highly reputable firm, the United Nations, via their subsidiary the World Health Organisation. They have just published their global overview of alcohol consumption and the ghastly effects it has on life love and the pursuit of happiness.

So how does Ireland do ? Badly, naturally.Precisely how badly in league table terms is frankly harder to work out than I had expected as all the tables seem to be divided into regions and organised alphabetically rather than by consumption for I am sure very good reasons. What I can tell you is that the UK , according to the Telegraph, came in at 25th in the list with 11.6 litres pure alcohol per annum and we scored higher with 11.9.pint-of-beer

The really bad news is not in our total consumption but apparently the way we drink. More than our neighbours in Europe we binge drink. We binge. Now when I hear a word like that it conjures up a particular picture. The Binge Eater. The Binge Drinker. Say it out loud, it works better. Binging. You can see it now can’t you. The sweaty fetid desperate creature gulping at the bottle of cheap vodka, not drinking but sucking down harsh hard liquor to dim the clamour of his inner demons.


According to reports a regular binge drinker is one consuming 60grams of Alcohol in a single sitting within a 30 day period. Now one of the confusions for the man at the end of the bar is understanding the units of measure employed by this and other reports. Some use grams of alcohol, some use what are called standard drinks, some use units of alcohol but none use Pints of Stout as a standard unit.

So far as I can work out the maths is as follow. A caveat however the figures are from Wikipedia and government funded sites so accuracy cannot be guaranteed. In Ireland a standard drink contains 10grams of pure alcohol. This works out to 500ml of beer being two standard units. This in imperial measure Ireland is shorthanded to mean that a glass of beer is one standard unit.Jameson_01

The long and the short of that is that a binge is drinking between two and half to three pints in a night out. Three pints makes you , yes sir you, and you madam, a binge drinker. According to the World Health Organisation.

I must therefore confess an interest. I am a binge drinker. My father was a binge drinker. My mother was a binge drinker. The shame you can imagine is crippling.

Alcohol abuse is not funny. Alcoholism is not funny. I have seen both in action, in my family and amongst my friends. But to use a ridiculous metric like this one in order to maintain the fiction of a constant crisis is more than simply dishonest, it is dangerous and counterproductive.

The use and abuse of figures throughout the debate surrounding Drink is endemic and disheartening. We are told they how massively above the global average country A or B is. What we are not told is that more than half the world doesn’t drink at all. Which will rather skew your averages.

It is pointed out portentously that all of the top tipplers are European countries, as if this hid some deeper darker meaning. Drinking booze is a cold climate activity. Anyone who had ever lived in a country with a summer will know why. Somalis may be down the table for wine coolers but in a global report on the use of khat they will beat us by the proverbial cricket score.

AA action

A goody goody organisation which is partly funded by the taxpayer!

Local prohibitionists Alcohol Action have been swift to respond to the report demanding minimum pricing and further restrictions on alcohol sales and marketing. On their website home page they tell us the between 1980 and 2010 our alcohol consumption rose by 24% while the rest of Europe declined by 15%. What they fail to say, but ironically demonstrate graphically on the same page is that in the last ten years consumption has fallen here by 25%. Moreover our increase was from a very low level, since we were at one time bottom of the table of drinkers in the OECD. They tell us that 20% of the population doesn’t drink but don’t point out that as a matter of fact in 1960, the other base year they use more than half the country in practice abstained.

So why? Why do we have to suffer these reports and the myriad of similar health jeremiads? Well you see THEY care. They care about you. They care about me. They care about all the little children. Most of all they care about their insufficient budgets, which must be boosted if they are to successfully prosecute this war against Death. They care about the meagre powers of control and enforcement the wise councils of our states and suprastates possess to protect us from ourselves. They could make our lives so much better; if only we let them.

Truly shocking the indifference of the public to the heroic work being done on their behalf by these servants of humanity. It could drive you to drink.UKIP-leader-Nigel-Farage

Well…yes – or is that no?

220px-Eden,_AnthonyWhat we must not do is to join any organisation without a full understanding of its implications and then find ourselves being swept further than we intended. Once the decision is taken it will be too late to complain.

Sir Anthony Eden ( 1897- 1977 ) Prime Minister of The United Kingdom 1955-1957.UKIP-leader-Nigel-Farage

Why the killers died.

By Christopher Smith.

Gunfight at the OK CorralAfter enjoying the recent film “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge” ( 2012) it was natural to have another look at “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” ( 1957) in which of course Earp was the central figure. I’m glad I did, even though it is a film that falls short of greatness.

The acting of the minor characters is sometimes wooden. The production values are by modern standards low. Cattle rustled from Mexico are said to be the economic engine of the plot, however instead of a veritable ocean of cattle there is only measly herd that would disgrace an Irish dairy farmer. Moreover the “Vista Vision” in which the film is shot renders the wide horizons it is intended to capture anaemic and attenuated ( at least on my DVD machine ). But this said these failings are more than made up for by the fine score by Dimitri Tiomkin which reinforces the characters and greatly enhances the power of the film.

This then is not a rival to any of the classics of the western gedwight-d-eisenhower-colornre. But it is a example of Eisenhower era popular culture at its apogee. You should not assume though that the film’s popularity- and this movie did well at the box office- to be an indication of triviality. This is a well scripted film which both reflects and seeks to mould the culture around it. Those who streamed out of the cinemas in Dublin’s O’Connell Sreet and elsewhere having seen “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were indeed entertained, but they will also have been challenged in many ways. This is a film which asks us to think  seriously about the moral foundations of political order, but in doing this it does not ignore the cultural changes which were to come in the next decade – even if we are a world away from “Easy Rider.” ( 1969)

This then is no revisionist western. Above all it is a film which celebrates order rather than liberty. It reflects the reality that on the Great Plains between 1870 and 1900 the problem was not too much freedom, but too little order. A related point was made five years later by John Ford in his film “The Man who shot Liberty Valence.” ( 1962 ) That film focuses directly on the need for political organisation and specifically statehood; in this it probably reflects the real life events of 1890. In contrast “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” set nine years earlier, explores the moral presuppositions that are needed to create and sustain any such political order.

The intellectual core of this film is the notion, which was  well known to both Hebrews and Greeks, that political order- indeed any state of affairs which is not anarchic- cannot be separated from personal and social morality. In this connection it is worth noticing that although the film drew on a range of talent from across the political and religious spectrum, Kirk Douglas ( Earp ),0025f9dd_medium Leon Uris ( who wrote the script ) and Tiomkin all shared a Jewish background. Moreover Rhonda Fleming who played the elegant gambler Miss Denbow, was to become a leading advocate of prayer in American public ( i.e. state ) schools. While the film is no exercise in conservative propaganda- both Kirk and Lancaster ( who for the record came from Irish Protestant stock ) were political liberals- the latter markedly so, there is nevertheless a clear note of moral purpose which gives a strain of only partly secularised prophecy to the movie.

The Wyatt Earp of the film ( as opposed to that of reality ) has about him if not exactly the mantle of the prophet something of the preacher’s robe. Indeed on three occasions Earp ( who always wears black ) is gently criticised for preaching. However these criticisms of his remarks are caste in such a way as to underline his moral stature and to affirm his moral authority to preach. This of course is not to imply that he is personally infallible. Quite the reverse, his moral faults are explicitly delineated, but in such a way as to reinforce the content of his preaching. This then is no crudely didactic film. We are a long way here too from the appealing simplicities of John Wayne. The film’s intriguing strength is that the failings of the good characters- as well as the more obvious faults of the bad – are used intelligently to emphasise its message that the modern political order with its telegrams, files and paperwork (i.e. our world) which Earp represents has to be grounded in a moral order.

In an old fashioned way ( we might be in the court of King Arthur ) both Earp and his crucial ally Doc. Holliday are weakened in their conflict with their opponents by their obvious personal and moral failings. Some of the time Earp behaves as an ideal public servant. On other occasions he acts as if he is unsure whether he is enforcing the law or pursuing a vendetta outside the law. Indeed it is Earp’s exaggerated family pride and his yearning for vengeance ( or is that justice?) which means that he is unable to save young Billy Clanton from the exaggerated loyalty to his brothers which ultimately leads to his death. On the one hand Earp relishes his appointment as a U.S. marshal- “this is all the ammunition I need;” on the other he is prepared to lock Miss Denbow for gambling because she is a women.Gunfight6-Wyatt-objects-to-lady-gambler Flawed though he is, secular redemption does not elude him. At the close of the film he renounces both his revolver and his Marshall’s star and leaves for California with Miss Denbow with whom he has, of course, fallen in love.

Earp’s friend Doc Holliday ( played by Burt Lancaster ) is in some respects a more interesting, and certainly a more ambivalent figure than Douglas’ Earp. For Holliday the challenges of life are all bound up with his exalted “lily white” background in the antebellum South. ( In real life Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851. ) A gentleman, reluctantly turned dentist, then turned gambler, he is one of the fastest gunman on the frontier, but who knows well that he is dying of T.B, and someone, who as a gentleman, feels compelled to repay Earp for saving his life from a lynch mob. But is being a gentleman enough? Can he accept that the world of his youth has gone and marry the lower class Kate? Can he overcome his sinister reputation as a killer? Or will he continue to drift from gunfight to gunfight infecting with his own ruthlessness all those with whom he comes in contact? Dare he accept Earp’s advice? His end is uncertain. His refusal to attend Earp’s wedding is a bad sign. He seems to have learnt enough for remorse, but not enough to change his life.

Since this is a film which does not believe that to understand is to exculpate, it is no surprise that its depiction of its darker characters is at once nuanced and uncompromising. Their end is signalled in the first moments of the film. They are “the killers that died ”. Subtly the film asks why? And seeks to frame its answer within both moral and psychological contexts. Inevitably the conclusions the movie reaches are anything but simple. Evil we learn, is multiform. There are as many forms of evil as there are evil doers. Some are too weak to escape the damage imposed by their past; others are condemned by solely by their own choices. But all are responsible for their actions, and the consequences thereof. Just as Earp and Holiday are real figures driven by credible motives and experiences, so too the various villains in the piece are driven by differing, but equally fatal, impulses. The Clantons are lured to destruction by the easy money to made from stealing cattle in Mexico. The exception here being young Billy who is led to self destruction not by greed, but by teenage angst. Ringo seeks vengeance; and wants to humiliate the aristocratic Holliday. Shanghai Pearce ( a splendid rogue who should really have been given his own show ) is, according to Earp “nice guy who forget to grow up.” Cotton Wilson is driven- if that is the word –as much by exhaustion as by greed. He was once a fine man who has “skidded pretty far” to the point where he has accepted bribes from the Clantons and tries to corrupt Earp.

The death of the killers is not just attributable to Earp’s and Doc Holliday’s well aimed ammunition ( that final gunfight IS quite a ballet bfi-00n-r32!) but to their identifiable moral failings which lead them into making catastrophic choices.The film articulates the notion that while evil lies deep in human nature there is nothing inevitable about it. But despite the film’s emphasis on the need for order it is no apology for the intrusive state. There is nothing here which seeks to undermine the importance of human freedom. But here man’s freedom is not merely a celebration of personal power; it is also a call to resist the temptations that surround us all in the interest of living in a civilised community. Ultimately it was because they could not understand or accept this that the killers ended “in Cold Boot Hill.”




Pafford on Kirk.

By Richard Miller

John M. Pafford “Russell Kirk” Bloomsbury, E 24.20

Russell KirkThe publication of a new series of short books about conservative and libertarian thinkers ( now in paperback ) is thoroughly good news. While there may be questions about whether the most suitable thinkers have been selected, there can be no doubt that series will prove both useful and important. Useful because now there is an easy way of discovering the wisdom of the right; and important because such a series will make it more difficult for the left to chatter in the way they do about the conservatives being “the stupid party.”

We hope to be examining more of these little volumes as they appear; but the first one to come to hand is in many ways an ideal introduction to the whole project. The late Russell Kirk ( 1918- 1994 ) – pictured above –  was probably the single most influential conservative writer of the twentieth century. It is not too much to say that the publication of “The Conservative Mind “ConservativeMind_cover-202x292  in 1953 marked the start of the post-war conservative movement, a movement which has transformed the political landscape in the United States and Britain. Consequently I take pleasure in my battered copy of it, which I had bought in 1971, for it was signed for me by Kirk in August 1974 at a conference about the literature of the South at The University of Dallas which he addressed.

I met Kirk again at Hillsdale College in Michigan at another conference organised by the ISI two years later. He was a short and rotund individual full of stories and good humour. But he combined his bonhomie with a very acute intellect, a capacity to master a huge body of information and a discriminating- but not infallible-judgement. He was also blessed with a facile pen and an engaging literary style. Personally Kirk seemed to me a shy man, but hid this with a streak of extroversion and even salesmanship. This expressed itself in some carefully crafted eccentricities ( which may at least in part have been intended to differentiate his product! ) But Kirk was no fraud. He was at his very core a man deeply in love with the richness and variety of human experience and expression, things which he knew could be fatefully undermined by the liberal project.

All this is well captured by John Pafford in his attractive book. Pafford who know Kirk well, provides a sound introduction to Kirk’s writings, and to some of the controversies they have occasioned. Although here I must introduce a surprising caveat. While I had, of course, heard of “The Conservative Mind” before first I arrived in the United States in September 1970 the first book of his with which I came in contact was a collection entitled 3729c0a398a096ba4e710210_L“The Confessions of a Bohemian Tory”. In it were two essays which entranced me. The first was about his friend the writer George Scott Moncrieff who lived in a garret in Edinburgh ( the nephew of Charles Scott Moncrieff who had translated Proust- so well that some preferred his version to the original.)  The second was an extraordinary piece about Kirk’s time during the war. Stationed in Utah, he had wandered in the desert, where he experienced the first glimmering of religious faith which was later ( as Pafford points out ) to be such an important element of his thought. Oddly though “The Confessions of a Bohemian Tory” is hardly mentioned by Pafford. ( When I met Kirk I asked him if there were going to be any further collections of essays, but he said that there was no demand for them.) I regret equally that Pafford ignores the journalism that Kirk contributed to “The National Review” and “Human Events”- then more important publications than they are now.

Obviously a biography like Pafford’s must be selective. Just as my view of Kirk is based on my meetings with him, so Pafford’s reflects his experience of his friend and mentor. But there is a risk here for the biographer. The danger is that the biographer will overemphasise that part of his subject’s life which he too experienced. Pafford is well informed about the Kirk that he knew and about his last years and final days. But it is the young Kirk that should draw our attention. Pafford is right when he says that Kirk was not a man of just one book. Nevertheless if it were not for “The Conservative Mind,” Kirk’s role would have been less much significant, and he could hardly have had the career he did without the authority that it gave him.

What must strike anyone who picks up “The Conservative Mind” is not simply its learning- for Kirk shows an intimate knowledge of British and American history- but more importantly its maturity and the sophistication of the judgement that it shows. It was a book which was to be heavily revised in the various editions which it went through. Nevertheless the reader of has to pinch himself to remind himself that it was first published when the author was only thirty four. It is a work which combines deep schalarship, the enthusiasm of youth and a great wisdom. And all this needs to be explained.

We ought therefore to be told  much more about Kirk’s youth and about the genesis of his major work. We need to know more about those who moulded Kirk’s mind, and above all about those who taught him, at Michigan State, at Duke University, and most importantly at St Andrew’sstandrews1, where he wrote the doctorate which was ultimately became “The Conservative Mind.” It would be fascinating to know something about why Kirk decided to embark on such a startlingly ambitious project; interesting too to know something of how it was composed. ( My impression is that it was based on omnivorous but somewhat disorganized reading. When I asked Kirk about the source of a quotation about Scott he confessed to having lost the reference! )

While Pafford avoids serious engagement with the personality of the young Kirk, he deals very exhaustively with the development of Kirk’s religious opinions. Indeed here, perhaps, he devotes too much of his limited space to such matters. I share a lot of Pafford’s and Kirk’s faith. Nor do I have any desire to see the part that Catholicism played in Kirk’s life downplayed. I do feel however that Pafford has not perhaps been able to resist the very natural temptation of reading his own theological concerns into his subject. There is no denying that Kirk was religious man, who was deeply informed about his faith. But unlike ( say ) C.S. Lewis-cs-lewis with whom it is not unfair to compare Kirk- he was not primarily an apologist for Christianity, but an historian, and a political, and to a lesser extent, an economic thinker. While Christianity is crucial to an understanding of his achievement, and provided much of the “background music” to his work, it was not at the forefront of what he did, nor of influence that he wielded. Indeed one of the most fascinating elements of “The Conservative Mind” – written admittedly before his faith had matured- is the way in which it captures both the religious and the sceptical strands of conservativism. Standing as he did then between faith and doubt, Kirk was able to understand both.

Although there may be a little too much of Pafford in Pafford’s discussion of Kirk’s theology, no such criticism can be made of the way in which he deals with Kirk’s views about economics. Kirk was not essentially an economist, and he had doubts about the writings of some free economic liberals. But we should be mindful of the fact that Kirk was an expert on all aspects of nineteenth century history and was therefore informed about the economic theories of both liberals and Marxists; and he also knew about the economic and social conditions of the period. No economic illiterate he was an admirer of the Swiss economist Wilhelm Ropke ( 1899- 1966).Wilhelm Röpke

Before I had read Pafford I was only vaguely that Kirk had been recruited to write a text book about economics. I have not yet seen this volume, but from what Pafford says of it, it sounds fascinating. According to Pafford, Kirk integrates the insights of the classical liberal economists with those of the Christian tradition:

“Kirk was firm in his opposition to making economics the key factor in civilization; he had no use for economic determinism whether from left or right. Market economics are good, but not the source of good. Economics is always discussed by Kirk as part of a broader framework. Civilization rests ultimately on spiritual principles derived from revelation and tradition. Within this context, market forces are beneficial in promoting freedom.”

Thus Pafford shows Kirk as being not just a traditionalist and Christian9781441165572, but also as a serious lover of freedom and of freedom’s concomitant benefits. In doing this Pafford has produced a valuable book, and has painted an appealing picture of an important thinker. For all its minor blemishes this is the perfect introduction- not just to Kirk, but through him to Conservative thought in our time. I recommend it strongly- although at twenty five Euros it is rather expensive. Market forces I suppose!


Natural Generosity


By John Wyse Jackson

IrishEthBot_cover_finalAs a family we Jacksons are much given to producing books, but despite being a lifelong bookseller it is rare for me to recommend one of them quite as heartily as I do here. This is not from a sense of fraternal duty, nor as an expression of my own ‘generous nature’, but because I have never seen anything like it before. It is called Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland, and it is written by my brother, Peter Wyse Jackson.

Michael Viney, in his introduction to the book, remarks that in the early centuries, ‘the importance of plant knowledge was tempered as much by a continuing pagan respect for nature as by the herb gardens of the many monasteries. … More than half of the 925 native plants of this island have been useful to its people, but nowhere, until now, have their stories been gathered together so systematically, both for Irish readers and the wider cultural and scientific audience.’

This is the first ever comprehensive account of the historical and present-day uses of wild plant species in Ireland. It shows how plants have been used in virtually every aspect of human life on the island: food, clothes, medicine, construction, drinks, veterinary medicine, human health and beauty, and even death.  Its 750+ pages carry 450 illustrations, including drawings, photographs, old and new, and fine botanical paintings by Irish artist Lydia Shackleton (1828–1914).

Peter, who until 2010 was Director of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, currently heads the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis51e6cb1f9c53c_image. In his book more than 1500 wild plants are detailed in a systematic list, with both their Irish and English names, and all their uses. It records a wealth of traditional knowledge about Irish plant use, knowledge that has been disappearing fast. Peter blends scientific and historical facts with myths, superstition, tales and many personally tested recipes. Many historical references have been included from a wide range of Irish literature, and many of the entries are illuminated by his own experiences with the plants.

Though scientifically authoritative, Ireland’s Generous Nature is a very entertaining, even chatty, read. Yes, it is quite expensive, but it is vast, and will repay you many times over in enjoyment and instruction.

Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland by Peter Wyse Jackson (ISBN 9780915279784) is available from most Irish bookshops (€60), and also, of course, from me, at Zozimus Bookshop, 86 Main St., Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland (Tel: 086 123 3137 Email:  info@zozimusbookshop.com).