Newton's modest proposal

Newton Emerson in excellent form, once again, in today’s Irish Times, foolishly bravely running the risk of comparison with a satirical giant of Irish literature with a modest proposal for the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, to consider

I’d like to reprint the whole piece.. if you’re reading this, Newton?.. Until then here’s a few [a few? – Ed] paragraphs –

Northern Secretary Peter Hain unveiled two new budget priorities in his speech to the British Labour Party conference: “Boosting our investment in Northern Ireland’s children” and “A new drive to promote renewable and other clean energy.”

The announcement is not before time. Almost half of Northern Ireland’s children leave school with no useful qualifications, while Belfast has the worst air quality in the United Kingdom.

However, as the secretary of state did not announce any new funding for these policies, an imaginative, joined-up government approach to their implementation will have to be found.

That is why this column proposes using disadvantaged children to generate electricity.

Placed in a suitably rewarding environment, such as a treadmill, a child can produce 120 watts of power comfortably over a long period or up to 200 watts of power uncomfortably over an even longer period.

There are 383,300 children aged under 16 in Northern Ireland. If the educationally hopeless half were all placed on treadmills for 12-hour shifts they could generate almost 20 megawatts of electricity on a continuous basis.

More alternative generation of energy –

As Peter Hain said in his speech last week: “My vision for Wales is my vision for Northern Ireland” – and that vision is clear. By making underprivileged children climb to the top of Slieve Donard at the end of their 12-hour shift, then lowering them down again in buckets attached to generators as needed, peak demand can be easily met. Thanks to a poor diet the typical underprivileged child weighs around 12 stone so the potential energy stored would be quite considerable.

Or.. even more alternatively –

Poor diet offers a further possibility for power generation. Thanks to their consumption of fat, sugar, salt and processed meat, all underprivileged children are exceptionally flatulent.

If the resulting methane could be collected, preferably while the children are on their treadmills, it could be fed to a biogas generator of the type currently found on some landfill sites.

An average daily output of 50ml per child would result in 9,582 cubic metres of fuel, delivering around 120 kilowatts of bonus capacity.

There is no doubt that underprivileged children are the clean energy source of tomorrow, especially if we wash them today.


Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger.

While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated. 

25 thoughts on “Newton's modest proposal”

  1. Why use the children , when there’s enough “hot-air” from our politicians to power a sub-station.

  2. Is this piece not just a rip off of that Victorian satire piece about solving the problem of poor children by using them for food? (I wish I could remember who wrote it.)

  3. D’Oh! Fair Deal – I think that’s why they captioned it “A modest proposal”.
    The real punch line to this piece is you just know Newt really means it.

  4. Fair_Deal,

    I think that’s the whole point … note Pete’s choice of header (‘Newton’s Modest Proposal’) … the original essay, entitled ‘A Modest Proposal,’ was written by Jonathan Swift.

  5. And there’s a link to the Gutenberg Project’s text of Swift’s Modest Proposal in the original post.

  6. Thanks sluggers. I remembered neither the name of the author or the article. It was quoted in 5th year class at school (over 17 years ago). I am already well aware of my inadequacies when it comes to literary appreciation as my D in English Lit proved, it is obvious that time has not improved them.

  7. Pete B.,

    Is it really necessary to point out our intellectual inadequacies by pointing out the obvious? 😉

  8. Where’s the satire in this?

    Emerson ridicules alright, but not as a means of provoking or preventing change, but simply to riducule.

    Hardly thought provoking, more akin to having to listen to someone tell you how smart they are.

    In comparison, Swift concludes in his modest proposal by listing what he wanted to change in Ireland:

    “I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth.

    Therefore let no man talk man talk to me of other expedients:
    Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound:
    Of using neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and
    instruments that promote foreign luxury:
    Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women:
    Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and
    Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ
    even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo:
    Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their
    city was taken:
    Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing:
    Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants.
    Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only
    our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever
    yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.”

    Now these are proposals.

    Newton Emerson doesn’t have a proposal, modest or otherwise. I’m with TAFKABO, although “not one of his best” is putting it mildly.

  9. Peterb

    It is probably because Swift hated the Ulster-Scots (from his time as an Anglican minister in East Antrim) so much that I have banished him from my mind ;P

  10. Have to say, as one of Newt’s longest standing and firmest admirers – [With admirers like that, etc. – edited moderator]

  11. Fair_Deal,

    Wasn’t Swift friends with C.S. Lewis — an Ulster Scot? (he was considered an Ulster Scot, wasn’t he? I’m a Yank so neither writer was covered in my school days, ‘cept maybe at university).

    Not that you can’t be friends on an individual basis (hate the sin, love the sinner — JUST KIDDING!!!!!!!!!!) — just looking for more info is all.

  12. Maybe it’s because it happens to be party conference time, but the article made me think of Tory conferences gone by, when the likes of Peter Liley would do “funny” skits about single mothers, to rapturous applause from the party faithful.

  13. ´´Wasn’t Swift friends with C.S. Lewis ?´´

    Not unless one or other of them had a time machine! You may (somehow) be confusing Swift with J.R.R. Tolkien who was a friend and colleague of C.S. Lewis.

  14. Foreign Correspondent,

    D’oh! Consider my face red (how do you guys say it — ‘puling a reddener’?)!

    Rather than take responsibility for my ignorance, I’ll simply blame the American education system.

  15. Biffo.

    i too had heard he disliked Ulster-Scots.
    A quick Google would seem it was more of a dislike of local Presbyterianism.

    “and about the same period he published his tract on the proposed abolition of the sacramental test in Ireland, displaying his intense antipathy to the Scotch Presbyterianism in Ulster, which he considered the one great danger of the Irish establishment.”

  16. Re Swift and Ulster Scots:
    Swift detested Presbyterians for several reasons. As a member of the Anglican clergy he was politically opposed to any advancement of their position within the state that might further weaken the already parlous (in his eyes) condition of the Church of Ireland. More generally he associated Dissenting Protestantism with anti-monarchical ideals and the regicides of the seventeenth century. His experience in his first parish at Kilroot gave a personal dimension to this loathing and coloured his outlook for the rest of his life. He feared that Ulster Presbyterians aimed to have Presbyterianism replace Anglicanism as the established church in Ireland. Swift did not despise the Ulster Scots per se – his superior in the Church of Ireland, Archbishop King of Dublin, was an Ulsterman of Scottish extraction – but as the majority of Ulster Presbyterians were Scottish by birth or descent he tended to use anti-Scottish ethnic slurs as a stick with which to beat them.

    Some sources:

    Swift, ‘A Letter from a Member of Parliament in Ireland to a Member of Parliament in England, concerning the Sacramental Test’ (1708), ‘On the Words “Brother Protestants and Fellow Christians” so familiarly used by the advocates for the repeal of Test’, (1733), Louis Landa, ‘Swift and the Church of Ireland’ (1954)

  17. For all Emerson’s talents for satire and self-promotion (and he is amusing and incisive a lot of the time), it has always been clear that he is no friend of the underprivileged, the uneducated, the disenfranchised or the dispossessed. His wit here barely conceals a naked hatred and a seemingly wilful incomprehension of those less fortunate than himself.(See Portadown News ad infinitum.)

Comments are closed.