Wednesday 28 May 2008

More Contraditions from No Camp

On Prime Time last night Declan Ganley of Libertas and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin made interesting points against the Lisbon Treaty, but they were full of contradictions.

Declan Ganley decried the loss of Ireland's veto in a number of new areas. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan retorted that the vast bulk of EU measures are in Ireland's interest and therefore it is better they get passed. Mr Ganley replied that yes, but two big powers plus two smaller ones can block such a measures.This is blatantly contradictory. How can one argue in favour of a veto for single countries but lament the fact that now four countries can block a measure? (Incidentally the blocking threshold was increased from 3 to 4 in the negotiations to stop the three biggest states from blocking measures agreed by the smaller states)

The other interesting point was made by Mary Lou McDonald. She reluctantly admitted that Ireland's veto on taxation is safe in Lisbon but that our corporate tax might be undermined by back-door measures. This is extraordinary stuff from a party whose policy on taxation until recently advocated that corporate tax should be hiked up to 40% for some sectors, which would make it the highest in Europe. Sinn Féin's dpolicy documents until recent years deplored the lower tax regime in Ireland, in particular the lower capital gains and corporate taxes. Are these lower taxes now sacerd all of a sudden or is Sinn Féin setting aside its core principles for the sake of expediency in campaigning against a Europe that it so much loathes?

Tuesday 20 May 2008

New War Poetry

When I think of War poets I think of Siegfried Sasson, Wilfred Owen, or closer to home Francis Ledwidge, Thomas McDonagh and Pádraic Pearse. Notably these men all fought at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sadly, one hundred years later War certainly hasn't gone away, yet we hear little about War Poetry.

Perhaps it is the fact that poetry itself has become an even more marginalised artform in the age of instantaneous messaging and downloadable videos. Who knows? In any case, I was certainly very pleased to discover that War Poetry is alive an well in the 21st century. I tune in regularly via iPod to American radio stations (oh Janus faced technology, you destroy the old yet insist on keeping it alive). One favourite is the magnificent public radio station KCRW, based in Santa Monica, Southern California, and which specialises in new music and the arts. It was on "Bookworm", presented by the excellent and inimitable Michael Silverblatt, that I came across Brian Turner. (incidentally the show seems to give decent coverage to Irish Writers - Colm Toibín and Anne Enright were recently given a full length show each).

Turner was part of the 10th Mountain Division in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999 and 2000. Later, in 2004 he was a team leader in the first Stryker brigade to be sent into the combat zone in Iraq, and was stationed for much of 2004 near Mosul. He had already aquired a Masters degree in writing and had written a substantial amount of material during his experiences in the Balkans. But it was his time in Iraq which really unleashed his talent. He wrote in secret, not wanting to tell his comrades in arms, because he said "it’s hard to be hard-nosed if you’re writing poetry" The quote from New Yorker 2005, the year when Turners "Here, Bullet" collection won the Beatrice Hawley Award.

Here are three poems from Here Bullet, the last being the title poem of the Collection.

AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)

Thalia Fields lies under a grey ceiling of clouds,
just under the turbulence, with anesthetics
dripping from an IV into her arm,
and the flight surgeon says The shrapnel
cauterized as it traveled through her
here, breaking this rib as it entered,
burning a hole through the left lung
to finish in her back, and all of this
she doesn’t hear, except perhaps as music—
that faraway music of people’s voices
when they speak gently and with care,
a comfort to her on a stretcher
in a flying hospital en route to Landstuhl,
just under the rain at midnight, and Thalia
drifts in and out of consciousness
as a nurse dabs her lips with a moist towel,
her palm on Thalia’s forehead, her vitals
slipping some, as burned flesh gives way
to the heat of the blood, the tunnels within
opening to fill her, just enough blood
to cough up and drown in; Thalia
sees the shadows of people working
to save her, but she cannot feel their hands,
cannot hear them any longer,
and when she closes her eyes
the most beautiful colors rise in darkness,
tangerine washing into Russian blue,
with the droning engine humming on
in a dragonfly’s wings, island palms
painting the sky an impossible hue
with their thick brushes dripping green…
a way of dealing with the fact
that Thalia Fields is gone, long gone,
about as far from Mississippi
as she can get, ten thousand feet above Iraq
with a blanket draped over her body
and an exhausted surgeon in tears,
his bloodied hands on her chest, his head
sunk down, the nurse guiding him
to a nearby seat and holding him as he cries,
though no one hears it, because nothing can be heard
where pilots fly in blackout, the plane
like a shadow guiding the rain, here
in the droning engines of midnight.

The Baghdad Zoo

Is the world safer? No. It’s not safer in Iraq - Hans Blix

An Iraqi northern brown bear mauled a man
on a street corner, dragging him down an alley
as shocked onlookers shouted and threw stones.

Tanks rolled their heavy tracks
past the museum and up to the Ministry of Oil.
One gunner watched a lion chase down a horse.

Eaten down to their skeletons, the giraffes
looked prehistoric, unreal, their necks
too fragile, too graceful for the 21st Century.

Dalmatian pelicans and marbled teals
flew over, frightened by the rotorwash
of Blackhawk helicopters touching down.

One baboon escaped the city limits.
It was found wandering in the desert, confused
by the wind, the blowing sand of the barchan dunes.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

Friday 16 May 2008

Arguments of Lisbon No Camp built on Sand

There have been some very impressive and eye catching claims made by the various factions within the No Camp. In some cases their argurments are made very professionally, are bolstered by quotes from the Treaty and often look entirely plausible. I have found, however, that in all cases that I’ve seen so far, when you dig a little deeper, you find that these impressive edifices are build on foundations of sand. The technique is usually to misrepresent the content the Treaty or to use sleight of hand to shock the reader into thinking that behind the Treaty there is a vast and hidden agenda in which both the Yes camp and the referendum commission are complicit. Another tactic is to imploy the notions of sovereignty and nationhood in an evocative way that obscures any reasoned argument about the value of our place in the Union and about the need for deep and substantial international cooperation in a world dominated by big players. In turn I will now examine some of these claims.

Corporate Tax

Let’s start with taxation. It’s widely cited by the No camp that Lisbon will lead to tax harmonisation which we all know would be detrimental to the Irish economy. For example, the Libertas campaign has the following Slogan on its buses “don’t let Brussels set our taxes!”.

First, there is no provision in the Lisbon treaty to allow the Union to alter corporate taxes without unanimity. The EU already has competence in the area of taxation, but it will remain under the unanimity rule. In the consolidated Treaties (as they’d appear after Lisbon) there is specific competence given in the area of indirect taxation, but even here, unanimity is preserved:

The Council shall, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after consulting the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, adopt provisions for the harmonisation of legislation concerning turnover taxes, excise duties and other forms of indirect taxation to the extent that such harmonisation is necessary to ensure the establishment and the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition. [ Consolidated TEU, Art. 113]

Where ‘turnover tax’ essentially means VAT. Note that this provision is specifically dealing with indirect taxation. Corporate tax is a direct form of taxation so there is no question of it being imposed without getting further consent from the member states. In fact, so sensitive is the area of taxes that even the area of Energy, which was introduced in Lisbon and is normally decided by QMV, any possible fiscal implications were specifically ruled out without getting the consent of all nation states:

The Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, shall unanimously and after consulting the European Parliament, establish the measures referred to therein when they are primarily of a fiscal nature.[ Consolidated TEU, Art. 194]

This approach applies throughout the treaties. Again, for example, in the area of environment, matters relating to taxation are to be decided using unanimity. In short, Lisbon does nothing to damage our low corporation tax rates.

Proposing Commissioners

Another area which has been highlighted by the No camp (particularly by Anthony Coughlan) is that the treaty changes the way nation states select a commissioner. First, the phraseology always used is “Ireland will loose the right to a commissioner”. In fact, the treaty states that although only 2/3 of states will appoint a commissioner for any one term, this operates on a strictly equal basis and in a manner which seeks to ensure a demographic and geographic spread. Furthermore, a commissioner is an officer whose remit is to promote the interests of the Union, not of member states:

The members of the Commission shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity [Consolidated TEU Art 17.5].

Any Commissioner which violates this can be forced to resign by the President of the Commission. Furthermore the commission as a body is responsible to the democratically elected European Parliament.

Mr. Coughlan makes much of the change in wording from using the verb “propose” to the form “suggestion” in relation to how commissioners are appointed. His implication is that that Council and Parliament can ignore our suggestion and then select whoever they want. But the text is clearer than that. They shall be selected…on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States [Consolidated TEU 17.7]. There is no escaping the suggestions by the member state. Clearly, as has happened before in the case of Italian commissioner designate Buttiglione, the member state may suggest an entirely unsuitable candidate whose tract record is incompatible with promoting the interests of the Union. In the Italian case, the MEPs threatened to veto the appointment and the designation had to be withdrawn. The process was fully democratic.

Workers’ Rights

The Socialist Party of Joe Higgins are voting No because they claim Lisbon will be bad for workers’ rights. This, the argument runs, would be par for the course because the EU has done little for workers anyway. Instead, as their web page points out, the socialists argue for “a democratic, socialist Europe of workers” to replace “the capitalist club that the EU is.” Leave aside the ideological debate here. Let’s look at the history of workers rights in Ireland since our membership of the so-called capitalist club. Where the title of the Act doesn’t make its provisions broadly obvious, I have added some explanatory text and in each case I have noted if the Irish law was the implementation of a Union directive.

Ireland Joins EEC 1 Jan 1973

The Holidays (Employees) Act 1973 - increased annual leave from 2 to 3 weeks

The Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973 – right to a minimum period of notice before dismissal

Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974.

Employment Equality Act 1977 implemented the 1975 Equal Pay and the 1976 Equal Treatment Directives

Unfair Dismissals Act 1977

Protection of Employment Act , as amended in 1996 and 2000, implementing Council Directive 75/129/EEC which puts an onus on employers to enter consultation with employees representatives in the case of collective redundancy and to notify the relevant authorities.

Terms of Employment Act 1994 – Directive 91/533/EEC which puts an onus on employers to make conditions of employment clear and specific

Maternity Protection Act 1994 92/85/EEC

Adoptive Leave Act 1995

Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996 94/33/EC

Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, 93/104/EC – clarifies conditions on working time, minimum rest period, maximum shifts

Parental Leave Act 1998 – 96/34/EC

Employment Equality Act 1998 - the purpose of which was to outlaw

discrimination in employment on nine separate grounds (gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller Community) thus further implementing Directives 75/117/EEC and 76/207/EEC and anticipating Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC

National Minimum Wage Act 2000

Carer’s Leave Act 2001

Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001, the purpose of which was to transpose Directive 98/81/EC and Directive 96/71/EC. – on working in hazardous environments, and entitlements of workers posted to Ireland from other member state

Protection of Employees (Fixed- Term Work) Act 2003, the purpose of which was to transpose Directive 99/70/EC. – equal treatment of fixed term contractors

European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2003, the purpose of which was the transposition of the mandatory requirements of Directive 2001/23/EC – protection of employees in mergers, acquisitions, and bankruptcies

In short, after Ireland’s accession to the Union enactment of workers’ rights legislation in this country accelerated. Many of those protects were directly as a result of EU measures. Even recently many of our protections for workers, especially part-time or fixed-term workers have been driven by EU measures. The picture is clear – the EU has been an overwhelming sponsor of workers rights.

It is true that the EU has attempted to promote competition in the services area by making it easier for workers to cross borders, notably via the famous services directive of 2001 which aimed to allow companies to maintain workers in another country for a temporary period on conditions of the country of origin. It should be understood that services remains an area that is stubbornly closed to competition and which as a result is highly uncompetitive internationally and is, quite simply, ripping off the local consumer. But even here, the EU measures were both limited and controversial and in the end the final measures were so watered down that they remain completely insignificant. Overall, nothing promoted from the angle of competition has undone the huge body of workers’ rights that the Union has promoted and accumulated over the years.

Health Strategy

Many No campaigners argue (the socialists, and members of the Peace and neutrality alliance) that the Lisbon’s provisions on competition will break open our health services to the private sector and make health care a product not a public service. (Let’s ignore the fact that the elected representatives in many countries with public services to put ours to shame, have negotiated, agreed, and ratified the treaty)

The crux of the argument here is competition. First, the provisions for competition and its central place in EU economic thought is already there. Lisbon does not create it, nor significantly enhance it. It is already explicit. Voting No to Lisbon will not undo it.

Second, our health services, again without and before Lisbon, have already been opened up to the private sector. This was not the fruit of some EU capitalist club, but the direct result of the ideology of the Irish government, particularly that of the PDs.

Third, the treaties include specific provisions on health. Many of them are related to disease control measures or promoting public health. But the Treaties single out health as a sensitive area where the Member state should have prime place and freedom to act:

Union action shall respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care. The responsibilities of the Member States shall include the management of health services and medical care and the allocation of the resources assigned to them [ Consolidated TFEU 168.7]

In short, Lisbon does not alter the fact that our shabby two-tier health service is entirely of our own making and fixing it will remain a job for the Irish nation, its representatives, and the employees in the service.

Constitutionality, Independence and the Superstate

There are two issues here. First, the allegation by the No camp of sleight of hand employed when talking about the change to the constitution and second, the issue of whether the EU is a state and Lisbon a constitution.

Anthony Coughlan has argued that the referendum commission is failing in its duty to inform us about Lisbon because it has not told the Irish people that we will have a new subarticle 11 in article 29.4 which states that :

No provision of this [Irish] Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10° of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State

True, that will be the text of the new subarticle 11 if Lisbon is passed. What Mr. Coughlan fails to say is that this is already in our constitution as article 29.4.10 and is only being moved down to article 11 to make way for the clause on the ratification of Lisbon which logically would go into article 10, just after the other clauses on the earlier treaties. So the general clause, as quoted here, simply moves to the end of the list in this subsection. Once again, voting No to Lisbon makes no material change here. We retain the above clause to prevent constitutional challenges to each piece of EU legislation which comes along under areas of competence which we have already agreed to give to the EU.

The next issues is that the No camp argues about whether Lisbon is a constitutional treaty and if the EU is a superstate. Again PANA and Coughlan are to the fore in these arguments.

A constitution is a set of rules for a system of governance. When we joined the Union we agreed that some functions of government (government being the authority to make laws and administer them) would be taken by the Union on our behalf. We entered this system eyes open and our experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. By definition the entire list of Treaties signed so far comprise a constitutional framework for the Union. They are its rules, they set out how it works. No more, no less.

Certain factions of the No camp attach an almost mythic meaning to the notion of the nation and of the state. I think you see where I’m going here. For them the nation and the state are sacred concepts. If you’ve followed the piece this far there is no need to remind you where this kind of ideological dogma has led in the past. If you can remain a little pragmatic and level headed about it, I would propose that a state is a political association with sovereignty over a defined area. Under that definition, yes, the EU is a state. But let’s add the qualifiers we know belong here. It is a voluntary political association with limited sovereignty given to it by its members to promote their interests as a collective.

Moving on to independence – another sacred cow for the No camp. First, this is not 1916. We live in the 21st century where the world is tightly interconnected and interdependent as never before. A multipolar world is emerging where the major issues, such as global trade and climate change, are decided by a small number of big players. Though new in depth and extent, the picture of dominant players controlling the international scene is not as new as we think. The modern world was ever thus. Alliances and clashes of the Great Powers characterised the development of the modern world from the Teaty of Westphalia of 1648. But key here is the acknowledgement that, with one twentieth of one percent of the world’s population, a minuscule nation such as ours needs to be part of something bigger. We are one of the most globalised nations on the planet, which for the most part has been to our great advantage. Independence today, therefore, is a chimera. In theory we could attempt to go it alone, and push our bow straight into the great waves of globalisation. Or we can travel in convoy with the European Union, where we have good reason to hope that, certainly not all, but most of our key interests will be protected in a Union where human rights and civil liberties are probably better protected than anywhere else on the planet.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Only Radio could have done justice to Ó Faoláin Interview

Only radio could have conveyed the power and beauty of Marian Finucane’s interview with Ó Faoláin. The ubiquitous image based media would have destroyed its poignancy and its intimacy.

Radio is special. In a world where the image is king, the loveliness and serenity of radio is a kind of escape. Today we are not just hooked on images of course, but on moving images. This usually means TV, which has become increasingly characterised by frenetic, almost chaotic, fast paced, images. Typical now are rapid montages with knife edge editing, dizzyingly moving camera angles, and graphics splashing and clashing and rolling incessantly. Music, quiz shows, and advertising are of course the worst offenders, taking the concept of movement and graphic to delirious levels. But more sober programs and broadcasters have been infected by the same virus.

Radio for the most part is immune to this pathology. It is a medium where you are still treated with dignity. You are a listener, not a mere consumer. And free from images the spoken word is particularly powerful on radio. There is an intimacy with radio that is utterly impossible on television because the paraphernalia of television doesn’t allow it. The visual staging, lighting, and makeup on television set up an artificial environment. And the camera creates a battle between the eye and the ear which obscures the delicate meaning carried by voice alone.

The listener to radio creates their own mental image of the speaker, matching the tone and texture of a voice to a face that is either remembered or imagined. Radio unlocks the power of words, which are the true channel to the human heart. The human facility of speech is unique and magical. It is an essence of humanity, and radio renders it faithfully. Television destroys it.

That is why radio was perfect for the interview of Nuala Ó Faoláin by her friend Marian Finucane. Words are the stock and trade of Finucane, just like they were, in a different way, for Ó Faoláin. The interview was utterly captivating.

I tuned in by chance at the beginning, without knowing in advance what the program was about. Finucane was speaking and when the other voice answered I recognised Ó Faoláin.

After a few words from Ó Faoláin, and before I’d heard enough to know her situation, something grabbed me. I turned around to the radio an turned it up. The timbre of her voice was quivering with the purest sadness I have ever heard, and it was clear that it was coming straight from a heart that had just been irreparably shattered. I stood motionless listening, absorbing the raw emotions wavering out from the wireless.

At various points in the interview Ó Faoláin would slide into her horrendous abyss, her voice channeling nothing but an overwhelming, insurmountable despair. This happened for example, when she mentioned a cancer hospital in New York and then thought of her beautiful room, a pad on which she had recently rebuilt a renewed life in New York, but which she now said, breaking down, she would never see again.

The interview, I learned just after it had finished, had been recorded. It’s not easy to know what amount of editing took place, though it felt as if very little. In any case Finucane was excellent and, given that she was interviewing her friend in those circumstances, admirably strong and clear headed. She nudged the interview forward with a light touch, inviting her guest and friend to do the talking and to open up. Which is precisely what Ó Faoláin did.

In the course of the interview she delved way down into her dying self and bravely wrenched out chunks that mattered or that once mattered. It was clear too, and desperately sad, that she felt the whole thing, the accumulation of pain and the bank of joys and the factory of creativity that was her life, the whole thing, seemed pointless and in the end had no meaning or no redemptive power. It was as if she had endured the odyssey of life and reached the destination to find there was nothing there. Her trembling hopeless voice carried all the horror of seeing the richness and tumult of an entire existence reduced to a singular and infinite nothingness.

And yet despite her hopelessness, and a feeling she called her ‘sourness’ with life, which came across like a mixture of anger and despair, there remained a humanity. She had lost her love of reading, and the power of music had faded from the heights of redemption and joy to something no better than palliative. Food was still enjoyable, sometimes. Her friends and family were never far away. Her concern about putting them out if she went on one final valedictory holiday was particularly touching.

She cried when she thought of the Irish song Tráthnóna Beag Aréir. It brims with nostalgia: a na glóire gile, tabhair ar ais an oíche aréir - O King of shining glory, Bring me back last night. Ó Faoláin said she didn’t believe in an afterlife, but confessed somewhat reluctantly, that the question of whether there was a God was different. Perhaps there was a pinhole in the black despairing sky, a tiny gap that refused to close. I was left wondering if hope refused to die.

Ar dheis go raibh a hanam dílis.

Monday 12 May 2008

Touching the Void

This is one of those days when I want to write something on the blog but nothing is taking shape in my mind. It is a very odd and hugely frustrating sensation to feel that you want to say or write something but you dont' know what. It seems like a contradiction in terms - if you have nothing to say, why have you an urge to say something?

I wonder if other people sometimes experience the same?

When it hits me I often open my blog and say, ok, I'm going to write something. I feel the need to get something out, to lift some kind of weight. And I open up, and go to new post: click. And there it is before me, the entry box lying open, a white, empty, void. And nothing comes. It's like lifting a full jug or water, placing over your glass, and then you pour and there's nothing. And you feel that the void on the page is telling you that your mind is also a void.

For an instant you try to find the issue that's making you want to write. What is it? You pause and think, and let your thoughts run, but they race, and skip. Is it personal? Or is it one of my pet topics? Is it something new or something in the news today, some hook in the subconscience from today's paper or yesterday's news? You feel your mind panicking. Trying to search for something deeply important to it, and beginning to realise it's not there. Where is it? I feel the niggle?

Then it kind of finds something, snippets, and semi-thoughts buzz past in a frenzy, too quick to snatch from of the neurons: cowen-lawn-burma-bank-mother-baby-bill-holidaybooking- bookreview-hillarobama-ofaolain-brown-cycloneburma-
-lisbon-politics-radiogreens. STOP

And you have a long series of those little shocks you get when you think you've lost your keys, thousands of those instances, maybe millions all racing and packed into a single second of life. For a moment it feels like a short circuit? Can brains reset? And when they reboot is everything still there?

But all this happens so fast. And then there's a calm. Wait a minute! I don't have to write a blog. It doesn't matter. Even if I wrote something brilliant or devastating or beautiful, it wouldn't matter. Because it's only my blog. It's irrelavent to my life. This is the mobile phone syndrome where people feel they have to answer it, or feel empty and lost if they leave the house without it. Is it a technology thing?

But you calm down. Stand back. It's only the blog! And this is a beautful summers day: lawnhomewifebaby.

Friday 9 May 2008

Mary Coughlan as Minister for Employment

As a native of Donegal I would like to congratulate Mary Coughlan in her appointment as Tánaiste. I would also hope that she succeeds better in her role as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment than she has at creating employment in her own constituency. She and her colleague, Pat the Cope Gallagher have been in power for much of the Celtic Tiger period, yet unemployment in Donegal remains well above the national average. In fact, the 2006 census records unemployment in Donegal as over 4 points higher than the average for the state. On closer inspection more worrying trends emerge. In Donegal between 1996 and 2006 employment in manufacturing fell from 6 points above the national average, at 22%, to about 2 points below the reduced national average of 13%. Another cause for concern is that employment in construction in Donegal, at 15% of the workforce, is significantly higher than the national average. It is well known now that the construction sector is shrinking rapidly. The consequences will be grave for a county with an already high unemployment rate. Minister Coughlan is not, of course, minister for South West Donegal, her role is national. But it would do no harm if she could dedicate some of her time to closing the gap between her home constituency and the rest of the country.

Thursday 1 May 2008

The Strange Case

By day he was a respected member of his community; by night a monster. In a cabin at the rear of his home lay a world of horror, a place of implacable darkness that gave him cover for his obnoxious parallel life.

When he entered his secret quarters through a reinforced door, his nature would change utterly. The shackles of decency would snap, and fall away from his feet. The dreary norms and suffocating restraints of society would give, and the pose of conscience would dissolve. The layers of civilisation were pared away, exposing a raw, distorted core. Here, in his secret chamber, he became a ghastly beast with an insatiable thirst for cruelty.

In his altered state, he would now perpetrate acts of savage barbarity. Yet after each horrific episode he would emerge from the darkness unchanged. He would step back into the ordinary, humdrum, world as if nothing had happened. Some circuit in his bizarre, dual mind would trip, and connect him back to humanity.

When a horrified friend learned of his friend's monstrous double world he said:

"My life is shaken to its roots; sleep has left me; the deadliest terror sits by me at all hours of the day and night; I shall die incredulous. As for the moral turpitude that man unveiled, I cannot, even in memory, dwell on it without a start of horror."

The friend is Dr. Lanyon and is speaking of his friend and colleague Dr. Jekyll who found he could transform himself into the deformed and hideous monstrosity that was Mr. Hyde. Dr Jekyll used to become Hyde in order to indulge his darkest impulses, and to do so separate from his good persona.

Dr. Jekyll revealled in a note found after his death :

"I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body of the noted professor, and to assume, like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde"

He explained the conflict between Good and Evil that his dual states embodied :

"I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil."

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was, of course, a work of fiction, penned by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. But alas the truth is often stranger still, and far more ghastly. This week we learned how Josef Fritzl, a construction engineer from Amstettten, Austria, began raping his daughter while she was in her teens. When she reached 18 he imprisoned her in a reinforced cellar at his home, where he continued to rape her for 24 years. During this time she gave birth to seven of his children, 6 of whom survived. Three remained locked in the cellar and had never seen the light of day. One had died at birth and Fritzl had incinerated it in a furnace. And the remaining three had been taken above ground and raised by Fritzl and his wife as their own. His wife was led to believe the daughter had ran away and that the three young children which Josef had brought into their home down the years had been abandoned on their doorstep by the daughter.

It is tempting to think that Fritzl's depravity excludes him from the family of humankind. But the reason people the world over are so horrified by his case is precisely because of our common humanity. We are struck in disbelief that this, this monster, is one of us.

tells us nothing new. History is replete with illustrations of the grisly and unbounded horror that can be wrought by the distorted nihilistic core of humanity. In fact, one way of looking at the history of civilisation is to view our progress as the fruit of a constant struggle, not with chance or with the elements, but with our heart of darkness. Indeed, a struggle of this kind is central to many of the world's religions: the opposing forces of all things symbolized by yin and yan, Seth and Osiris in ancient Egyptian religion, the opposition of divine and mortal forces in Greek mythology, and of course the struggle between Good and Evil in the Christian bible where the combat against Original Sin lasts for the entire duration of humanity.

When evil breaks through the imperfect cloak of civilisation, there are always victims. In Fritzl's case, seven of them were children. We cannot help imagining what they suffered, especially those poor creatures locked in the darkess. Their mother tried to make their lives livable, she tried to simulate normality. She told them fairytales and entertained them with elaborations of what they had watched on TV. She must have had to convince them that their frequent visitor was a benefactor, that he loved them, that he protected them.

Incredibly, while in their company he wasn't always Mr Hyde. He could revert to Dr Jekyll. He would play with the children and discuss their welfare with their mother - whom he never ceased to beat and rape. It is impossible to imagine how she summoned the power to bear the violence and depravity for over 20 years, long after hope of escape had receded. Her mental torture must have been worse than that of the kids. She knew another world, a world of spring air and winter snow, of mad autumn colours, of birds and birdsong, of rolling clouds and warm sunshine. A world of space and movement, and freedom. A place filled with people, real people, who were decent and kind and loving and dignified.

We cannot resist wondering how Elizabeth and her children will ever manage to build up anything like a life after such sustained and horrific damage. Can their minds be repaired, at least in part? Can they regain an appetite for real life? How will they cast away their mistrust of people? Will they adjust to streetscapes or parks or any open space? Do the children know or can they ever learn the language of love? Will they ever cope with the constant motion of their new world? What is the shape of their hearts after years of torture and depravity? Can they be healed? We pray that they can.

And as for Fritzl himself, it is hard not to be sucked in by his monstrousity. We are compelled to marvel at, and be shocked by, the revelation that this absurdity, this wretched, cruel beast, this is you and I.

The Strange Case of Josef Fritzl draws our attention because he appeared so ordinary, his victims were so helpless, and his depravity so hideous. But above all we are tormented by thoughts of what it was like to be Fritzl, or far far worse, one of his victims.