By Ray O’Hanlon
Since returning from the auld sod a couple of weeks ago, "IF" has been spluttering, sneezing and suffering the discomfort of a sinus infection, pain in the ears and, indeed, one eye, no less. Frank McCourt would understand.
The cause of these various maladies was almost certainly the recycled air on the plane that carried "IF" – safely, it must be said — across the pond. Some of you who have flown long distance this year doubtless came down with similar symptoms. If you sat near the rear of the plane, your chances of contracting some nasty bug were dramatically increased, according to Dr. Muiris Houston, medical correspondent of the Irish Times. Houston wrote in a recent column that air quality on modern aircraft deteriorates significantly if a passenger is sitting toward the rear of the cabin.
"Paradoxically, as Airbus and Boeing develop airplanes that can fly farther and more efficiently, the standard of air circulating at altitude has deteriorated sharply. The older Jumbo Jets are actually healthier to fly in because fresh air is circulated throughout the cabin. More modern jets recirculate the same air, which gives the airlines a two percent fuel bill reduction."
The potential health threat at the rear of a new Boeing or Airbus can be far greater than an encounter with a cold bug, as Houston points out in his piece, penned during a flight from London to Chicago.
"I have been seeing an increasing number of patients with respiratory problems in the week following air travel. Viral upper respiratory tract infections are especially prevalent, which seems to be linked to low air quality as well as low humidity in the cabin.
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"The big worry for me is the increasing incidence of TB worldwide. . . . The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., has shown that TB can infect through prolonged exposure to droplets dispersed through the recycled air in aircraft.
"A recent case proves the practical implications of the research. Two Scots who flew to New York via Brussels developed multiple-drug-resistant TB. They had been infected by a female passenger sitting 13 rows away.
That’s a comfort. Maybe 14 rows is out of range. Either way, those who sit up front in planes on long flights can rejoice in the fact that they are saving the airline money. Those in the back can simply stop breathing for a few hours and utter a quiet prayer.
Bill’s Irish joy
Bill Clinton’s recent meeting with a group of evangelical ministers involved more than just the president doing penance again for the Monica Lewinsky business. As is his wont, Clinton threw in a positive spin on his recent times in the White House. The spin was rooted in the North.
"It’s been the great joy of my life to labor for peace," he told the ministers.
"In December 1995, I went to Ireland, and our administration was the first American administration ever to become deeply involved in the Irish peace process," Clinton said.
Clinton went on to say a final peace had almost been attained and that his efforts during the years in Ireland had elicited the greatest demonstration of support for him as president. He spoke of his trips to Ireland in 1995 and 1998 and recalled the huge outpouring of emotion on the streets of both Belfast and Dublin, "all because of the enormous capacity of our country to represent the best hope of humankind."
Given that his Irish efforts produced this greatest outpouring of support, it would seem tempting indeed for Clinton to indulge in an Irish encore. The White House is talking October. There aren’t too many months left.
Low key or off key?
The fireworks have hardly been exploding in the wake of the Democratic Party’s platform statement on Ireland, but there remains the argument that a politician should be judged more on deeds than words. Bill Clinton’s Irish promises in 1992 went into almost immediate cold storage after he was elected president and it took a fair while before he felt he could follow up on them. From a politician’s point of view, one argument in favor of low-key statements on tricky issues, such as the peace process, is that you don’t have constituents harping on your words every five minutes and demanding that words become deeds — immediately. Then again, an obvious danger in playing things down at the platform stage is that those same constituents won’t be bothered coming out to vote for you on election day.
For Al Gore in particular, the low-key Irish statement may well be part of a broader process of stepping away from Bill Clinton’s long shadow. But sooner or later, you’ve got to start casting your own shadow.
"It’s certainly being very modest considering the record and achievements," said one long-time Irish-American Democratic activist of the platform statement. "But the important thing is to look at the records and compare Clinton’s to the last Bush administration."
The activist stressed that Al Gore was in on virtually all the meetings and decisions arising from Clinton’s Irish exploits. "Gore knows all the players," he argued.
One way or another, the campaign trail in the coming weeks should provide Gore and his running mate opportunities to be specific with regard to Ireland. The same opportunities, of course, are also available to the Bush-Cheney combo.
Your dollars at work
According to the Irish investigative magazine Phoenix, U.S. dollars and other revenue sources are being "poured into" six constituencies in the Republic which Sinn Féin feels are ripe for the plucking come the next general election. Much of the money is being used to refurbish party offices in the constituencies, three of which are in Dublin with the other three in Louth, Sligo and Kerry.
Opined Phoenix: "These six constituencies are the ones that SF has targeted in the next election and if they don’t win the seats it will not be for the want of resources culled from patriotic Irish-America and elsewhere."
The dollars — $3.75 million of them, give or take — have been raised during a period of several years by New York-based Friends of Sinn Féin. "IF" can only assume that if you were to drop into one of these refurbished offices and offer greetings in an American accent, you will be allowed the run of the place, a key to the jacks and other enviable privileges. Spend a penny, get one back!