The Gist: Letter from America

"In a sort of DUP equivalent of the marshmallow test for toddlers, they proved unable to postpone saying No." This is the Gist.

The Gist: Letter from America

Last week, I found myself on the Streets of San Francisco.

At no point did my nose explode into a florid strawberry. Nor did I have a single shootout or car chase. In those respects at least, not all of my TV expectations were met. Nonetheless, having been cut off from the usual flotsam of events, this week’s Gist includes some on the spot reuse of personal experience.

The Infernal Combustion Engine

The cars are absurdly large, yes of course. I am a middling sized adult and I was barely visible over some of the bonnets of vehicles. But what really struck me was that the city was built around cars.

European cities are old. They were built for people and horses. Of course there are some wide streets (The Dublin of the 18th Century even had a Wide Streets Commission). But San Francisco was largely built around the car as the connective tissue of the city. Streets are chasms, empty deserts given over to the camels of the city. In a city where space is so clearly at a premium, it is astonishing to see just how much land is devoted to running huge roads between buildings.

And once you travel outside the centre of the city, the task of moving workers in and out of town to do their jobs has resulted in amazing ugliness. Concrete rivers of cars, sometimes stacked one on top of the other flow through car dependant commercial spaces. A double decker of commuting misery and aesthetic assault.

Electric cars may reduce emissions, but the US’ primary 21st Century urban challenge will be to rework cities built as storage vats for traffic jams.


Holly Cairns took over as leader of the Social Democrats and did a tour of studios and interviews to set out her stall. A bit of attention and airtime is no harm for a small party. Though it seemed that most of the media she encountered were consumed by one overriding question- When was she going to extinguish her party by merging into the Labour Party? And if not, why not?

At first glance, this is an odd sort of a go-to question for members of a political party. Rarely does the leader of Fianna Fáil have it put to them that they’ve been basically the same collection of right-wing impulses as Fine Gael for much of their history and when are they going to just merge?

However, this question has the advantage of requiring no engagement or awareness of any party policy or recent activity while appearing ‘savvy’. It also has the disadvantage of being air-time filling guff, but you can’t have everything.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael (previously Cumann na nGaedheal,  and the National Centre Party and also previously the Army Comrades Association, previously the Blueshirts, previously the League of Youth,  previously the National Guard) made a statement warning how hard it was for a party to survive past its second leader, presumably from experience.

The Windsor Not

The UK and the EU announced they’d come to an agreement on Northern Ireland. They called it the Windsor Framework, to make it seem more palatable to Unionists. Presumably the idea of branding it with a sash and bowler hat was only abandoned late in the day. The London press then adopted their serious voices and intoned that the DUP would take their time before deciding whether to say Yes or No.

The DUP leader’s efforts to keep a straight face while he said he would be making a real effort to come to a difficult decision was undermined somewhat by some of his MPs. In a sort of DUP equivalent of the marshmallow test for toddlers, they proved unable to postpone saying No, even with the reward of making a bigger impression if they could wait to say No later.

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