Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Archbishop's Petri Dish

"Do we want to have a culture of Podge and Rodge, or one of decency and respect?" asked Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady.

This is a marvellous question and the potential basis of a very entertaining game. There are not enough spurious comparisons and choices to be made between entirely unrelated items. There should be more questions like it such as "Do we want a culture of apples and oranges or one of puppies and kittens?" Or how about "Do we want magenta and yellow or Pasta & Pizza?"

I don't even particulary like Podge & Rodge, I find their level of crudity is rarely justified by the level of humour. But I think I understand where they are coming from - attacking the soft underbelly of minor (or even major) celebrity. Their interview with Chris Brosnan was a little masterpiece of bubble bursting. On the otherhand the one with Brian Kennedy was cringeworthy. They are part of a backlash against all those years of Gay Byrne being so feckin' grateful that some B-list celebrity would come to little ole Ireland to hock their wares on the Late Late. There is a lot of pent up anger to have to work through.

"The increased "coarseness and aggression" in Irish society was evident "on the roads, in drinking, the increase in sexualisation of children at an earlier age, stress, excess generally. It is dehumanising". Such "dehumanisation is linked to secularisation", he said.

The argument he is making is:
Modern life is increasingly rubbish
Modern life is increasingly secular
Thus the trend towards secularisation has made life rubbish which, of course, is a basic logical fallacy.

But wait! There's more!

[Secularistation] was opposite to Christian core values which "called on Christians to look out for one another" and to develop "a good caring attitude, bringing healing to brokenness", he said.

Message: Secularists have no values, don't care for anyone else. I guess it must be Christians doing all the good stuff, not secularists. The secularists are off corrupting children and being crude.

The past decade had seen a rapid decline in both vocations to the priesthood and attendance at weekly Mass, but he felt using attendance at Mass as a yardstick was "an incomplete way to assess the life of the Church" as there had been, for instance, no decline in numbers at Catholic schools.

Let's face it the Church's marketshare is massively down in the areas (Mass attendance, vocations) where people partake in them voluntarily but is stready (or steady-ish) in areas, like education, where they don't have much of a choice. You could say there is an increase in people attending 'Catholic' hospitals but I doubt it reflects one way or another on the degree of 'life of the Church'. It does of course explain why they are not going to give up the schools (or hospitals) without a serious fight.

He said it was not right "for the State to seek to monopolise education" and did not accept that the segregation of children attending school along religious lines contributed to sectarianism.

He is correct, State monopolies in education or in most other things are not good. It is even less right for there to be a Church monopoly in education particularly when large swathes of the population are no longer interested in what they are peddling.

Do you want "Cathecism and ritual" or "Freedom and choice"? Oh wait I got it wrong, those items are related.

All These New Ones

When did all this 'neo' prefixing start?

'Neo-liberal'. 'Neo-conservative'. 'Neo-Darwinian'.

Was it the Matrix?

OK so a 'neo-con' (being former lefties converted to, eh, righties with an invasive attitude) is actually distinct from a traditional conservative and the neo- prefix is at least linguistically justified. But neo-liberal? Who or what are they?

Is it too obvious to say that users of these terms hope they will subconsciously link them with everyone's favourite neos - neonazis? Yes folks, just add 'neo' to your least favourite political label for instant added sinisterness. More to the point, since we're so fond of Greek, are there such things as paleoconservatives or paleoliberals, ?

Prosperity = Good, Poverty = Bad

There was a piece in the Irish Times by academic Joe Clery on Saturday about Fairytale of New York, the Pogues classic, it concludes:

"And when our home-grown neoliberals summon up the sorry ghost of the 1980s to remind us we have never had it so good, MacColl's and MacGowan's duet can be a reminder that not all back then was misery and despair; there was also resilience and resistance."

The fact that hard times can bring out good qualities in people is no argument to return to them. Out of necessity, solidarity in Blitz time London was sky high, but I don't see anyone making a case against peace. Have people really forgotten just how fucking miserable the 80's were in Ireland? It Sucked-with-a-capital-S. We were a poor, insular, insecure, Church-ridden, tax-dodging, miserable little people. I got out as soon as I could and so did 50% of my friends and classmates to London, New York, Amsterdam. There was 16.7% unemployment when I left college. I can remember only a handful of Irish companies recruiting on the Milk Round and loads and loads of UK ones. Tell that to the young people today, and they just won't believe you...

So anytime I hear someone bemoaning our recent prosperity (I can't bring myself to write 'C____c T___r') or the "Oh dear what have we become" brigade, I get quite uptight. Give me the problems of prosperity over those of poverty any day. Yeah even the traffic. Or the house prices. Or the 'loss of our spirituality', whatever that is. As Des Bishop points out, we have traffic jams because now people have jobs to go to and can afford cars to do so. If you had a decent enough job in the 80's life wasn't too bad because relative to everyone else you were quids in. Back then my father was able to drive from the northside of Dublin to his job in Ballsbridge in about 40 minutes. Great. Wonderful. But two of his three sons had to emigrate. We're both back now, because of prosperity.

It wasn't just poverty that made Ireland in the 80's shite. Hand-in-hand with it, went the small-town, small-mind, squinting-window begrudger attitude. Nobody could disentangle cause and effect relationship with those two. We were poor because we were shite and vice versa. I suspect there are at least two types of people people complaining now that everything has gone to hell in a hand basket since we 'got rich':

  • Those who were pretty comfortable during the bad times and now only see the down side of prosperity. Their relative position in society has slipped. After all what's the point of being able to go on a second foreign holiday if your house painter can too?
  • Those who object to how we got here because it does not fit with their political ideology. We got here through a combination of many things but most people agree that our low tax policy and foreign direct investment primarily from U.S. companies were key. If you denigrate the outcome, you denigrate the process by which we got here.

Prosperity clearly has not benefited everyone equally or even fairly. Growth has created huge problems, exacerbated by our sometimes pitiful Governmental response to it. But it has resulted in the greater good to the greater number. People are a) happier despite what our commentariat tell us and b) here. It gives us the means to assist those who, for whatever reason, have not benefited from it - if we want to. Would the Niall Mellon house building initiative in South Africa been possible in the 80's (if apartheid had not existed)? It has also gone hand in hand with a dismantling of a lot of the old begrudger attitudes. Success can be admired now rather than be derided as the product of 'pull' or dodgy-dealing or luck.

Repeat after me. Prosperity = Good, Poverty = Bad.

Even when the prosperity we have is unbalanced and sometimes inequitable. If pointing this out makes me a 'neoliberal', I'll take that risk.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I owe a lot to the Frank & Walters.

Late one New Year's Eve night, five or so years ago in Edinburgh, my then girlfriend and I were going back to the apartment we were staying in. We had been going out for over a year at that stage. Leading up to that Christmas, all the signs were that we had come to the usual relationship juncture. I say 'usual' as I had been in a similar situation with previous girlfriends and had always, eventually, taken the exit option. I didn't know if this time, with this woman, it was different. The unspoken loomed above us. By inclination and training I am a rational man - probably too rational - and that side of me is not much use in decisions in the realm of the emotion.

We had had a great night out with friends, drinks, dinner, fireworks, a perfect evening. We started singing as we walked down the now deserted streets of the city, quietly as first and then louder and louder. In the right range I can fair belt it out and one song that fits my range is the Frank's "How Can I Exist". It is, to say the least, an emotional, heart-on-the-sleeve type of song with the crescendo being:

"It's time we stopped the pretending
that we don't need love to get by"

Music can help you bypass all those rational, right brain processes, to trust the emotion you feel and make the necessary leap (a quality it shares with alcohol, but without the regrets). Songs allow you to express the things you can't, for whatever reason, say. So we sung and then caught each other's eye and laughed. When we got home, for the first time, we told each other we loved each other. Yeah I know, corny as f*ck, but a certain amount of corn is allowed and indeed necessary in these matters. That woman (eventually!) became my wife and is now also the mother of my baby daughter.

I try not to think how different my life might now be if we had started singing something by Radiohead instead.

Thanks Niall, thanks Paul, thanks Ashley.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Missives to Madam #1

Ah! The ever entertaining Irish Times Letters Page ...


"I would have thought that our bustling financial centre would be a safe haven from the criminals."

[perhaps the letter writer thought there is some sort of fellow professional criminal courtesy code?]


"This week it was confirmed that MEPs from the extreme right-wing "League of Polish Families" and "Northern League" (Italy) will join forces with Fianna Fáil in the European Parliament."

[insert obvious PD joke here]


"Why cannot the Oireachtas be brought back to the building designed to house it? Perhaps if we ceased using our noblest public building [Bank of Ireland's College Green premises] as a temple to Mammon it would do something to restore national respect for the democratic process and the younger generation might even be tempted to get out and vote."

[there must be few purposes less salubrious than banking for the old House of Lords, but being the Dail debating chamber would certainly be one of them]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sorry Lads, Only 13 Of You Are Needed

They've no scrum worthy of the name. They've no kicker now that Felipe is out until the end of the month. But they keep winning games.

Are Leinster the best Rugby League team in Europe?

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sure They'll Never Notice. Grrr

Contact Lenses

6-months extended wear contact lenses
Specsavers.co.uk: £83.50 or €124,
Specsavers.ie: €155

Price Difference between UK and Ireland: 25%

Baby Toys

Baby Sit N Step - Bubbles
Mamas&Papas.co.uk £99 or €146.26 + £5 delivery
Mamas & Papas Irish store/catalog €160

Price difference between UK and Ireland: 9%


Amazon to the UK: Free Delivery for orders over £19/€28
Amazon to Ireland: £5 for first book, £1 per each additional, regardless of total amount spent

Price Difference On One Book Costing £19: 26%