Friday, November 14, 2008

Does anyone really care about the EU?

DO YOU consider yourself Irish or European first and foremost? George Bernard Shaw once said that “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” The famous line summed up, to Shaw’s mind at least, the absurdity of a loyalty determined by the accident of birth. Absurd or not, however, the power of national identity to influence, bind and rally people cannot be denied.

After all, it is this force which led millions around Europe to march dutifully to their deaths in the Somme, rather than rise up from their squalid living conditions in a workers’ revolt, as Marx had long anticipated.
Even where conscription did not oblige those to fight, a sense of nationalistic duty swept the hearts and minds of countless young men during WWI; in Britain, alone, where conscription wasn’t introduced until 1916, 750,000 volunteered in the first 8 weeks; a further million joined them in the next 8 months.

And while it was very much a European war in terms of where it was fought and the countries involved, those obliterated in its horrific barbarism were fighting in the name of Germany, or France, or Britain – not Europe. And now, as the Lisbon Treaty’s 479 pages lie in the dust-bin of political stalemate, it is worth considering just how important the question of national identity is.

That interest in the EU project has been on the wane for the last 25 years is hard to dispute; the EU-wide turnout for the 2004 elections was the lowest ever. This begs the question: is it particularly reasonable to except citizens in a particular country to feel connected with an organisation representing almost 500 million people in 27 countries, encompassing over two dozen languages and numerous cultural traditions? Despite the cynicism which politics is regarded with in this country, September’s pensioner protests over the medical cards debacle demonstrated the possibility of effecting change at a national level. Can the same be said of the EU? After all, a trip to the Dail from down the country surely seems more within reach to the average Joe than a flight to Brussels or Strasbourg.

But even if we cannot feel like European citizens, are there steps which can be taken to improve people’s perception of the union and its accountability to the people? Whether or not one feels solidarity with the Italians, Dutch or Swedes aside, the legislature of the EU, The Commission, is unelected – a fact which undoubtedly fails to inspire the minds of those unconvinced of the union’s democratic legitimacy.

It is the Commission which has the sole power to propose legislation for consideration by the European Parliament - the only directly elected institution in the EU - which it then can then amend, or accept outright. The Parliament itself has no right to propose legislation, effectively leaving the political agenda of the EU to be set by an unelected body.

Furthermore, before any amendments made by the Parliament are ratified, they must be approved by the Council of Ministers (Council) – a body made up of government ministers from the respective EU member states.

Commission

Irish MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Kathy Sinnott believes that a commission elected by the people would be a start in making the EU more democratic.

And according to Mrs. Sinnott, who sits with the Independents/Democracy bloc in Brussels, the Council typically only allows “about 80 per cent of the amendments [made by Parliament] go through”.

The MEP also believes that directly electing the Commission President through the people would go a long way towards changing the perception that the EU is detached from the people. And according to her, something similar to the U.S. system of a college of electors could be used to ensure that smaller EU countries have a significant say in such an election.

“It is important to have a weighted system so you are not lost if you are a small country,” says Mrs. Sinnott.

Another aspect of the process which serves to further alienate ordinary citizens is the issue of MEPs’ voting records in parliament. For a roll-call to be taken, in other words for a MEP’s vote to made known, an entire bloc – for instance the socialists or the EPP- in the Parliament must request it. In addition, the Commission President has the right to deny a roll-call on the grounds that it disrupts the business of the parliament. This effectively means that, come election time, the ordinary voter may have no idea what his or her MEP has been voting on for the previous five years.

No matter what level of reform ever takes place, however, it seems quite likely that an institution as vast and culturally incoherent as the EU will never be seen as readily accessible by the man on the street. And if our war-time example of the power of patriotism seems far removed from everyday life, disregard it; the almost religious fervor typically expressed at an Irish soccer, ruby or GAA match is testament enough to the fact the flags, borders and anthems still hold sway with the masses.

The day 80,000 gather, gripped by excitement, in Croker under a yellow-starred banner of blue, will be the day the EU no longer seems too abstract for most people to have a real interest in; and the day I’ll eat my T-shirt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Technology’s grip is felt in every aspect of our lives and yet we don’t understand it

STRANGELY, it is often the things which are most influential in our lives which go unnoticed and escape thorough examination. Mankind has long proved adept at slipping into routine, and with such familiarity comes the notion of ‘to take for granted’. For most of us, much of our daily routine - what we eat, where we go, who we like, love and hate – is taken as a given - it just is.

Nothing shapes how we live so profoundly, and yet barely registers in our attention, as much as the advancement of technology. Despite being unprecedented in all of history, the fact that it’s perfectly possible to have breakfast in Dublin and dinner that evening in New York rarely fills us with awe. Every time we turn on the oven, get the bus, or send an email or text message, our ways of living, communicating and, even thinking, are being shaped in ways unheard of in times past.

Naturally, this raises an important question: does the relentless evolution of technology improve and enrich our lives, or merely cause more problems than it solves. After all, the very technology that allows the miracle of transatlantic restaurant-hopping also facilitated the leveling of Hiroshima and, with it, the obliteration of thousands. History has shown us that the most innocent seeming of developments can become deadly in the hands of the unscrupulous; today’s life-saving cure could well become tomorrow’s plague.

In many ways technology illustrates both, humanity’s greatest strength, and its crippling weakness: an insatiable appetite for improvement and an inability to ever be fully satisfied.

Consider if our proverbial Neanderthal friend ‘Mr. Ugg’, after discovering fire, had decided he was happy enough with his situation – that getting a little prehistoric with Mrs. Ugg beside the fire would keep him content for the rest of his days. And imagine if everyone else had followed suit. Well, that would have been the end of progress; the day man stopped striving for something better. The bizarre world in which we live is built on the struggles of people who wanted ‘something more’.

Progress

But in our quest for the perfect world do we risk overstretching ourselves? In John Gray’s fascinating, and indeed wretchedly depressing, Straw Dogs, the author argues that what we know as human progress is in fact an illusion and that, in fact, we are hurtling towards self-destruction. Gray cites the millions killed in the name of progress in Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R as examples of how “Humanity’s worst crimes were made possible only by modern technology.” It can be argued quite convincingly that such atrocities do not outweigh the good that has been accomplished through technology, but just on what side do the scales of progress tip? Has more harm been done than good?

We do not have to look at such heavy questions to ponder as to what the point of certain ‘advancements’ is. The late Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich once calculated that, between working to pay for tolls, tax and insurance and waiting in it when idle, the typical American – and I doubt the Irish differ greatly – puts in 1600 hours a year into their car in order to travel 7500 miles. That works out at around five miles an hour, not much faster than walking. This raises a fascinating possibility: like so many things we buy, is a car more important for the possibility of freedom it suggests or what it says about us, rather than its practical use?

Then there are just the downright irritating examples of machines going where one would prefer they didn’t. A purchase at Tesco can now see you being told by a friendly automatic checkout lady - in a curiously un-Irish accent mind – to ‘please take your change’ over, and over, and over until you wish that robots felt pain, just so you could cause them some. After this delightful experience has you reduced to a quivering mess uncertain of your own sanity, ‘Robo-lady’ thanks you for shopping at Tesco. Why on earth anyone would want to be thanked by a machine is beyond me, but there you go; technology is constantly becoming all the more bizarre.

And about the machine’s accent: on second thought, as much as much as ‘Robo-lady’s’ British twang annoys me, consider the more colloquial alternative: “Listen bud, would ya eva take yer bleedin’ change!” You can stay ‘Robo-lady’, all is forgiven.

Aside from simply being irritating, the Tesco experience also illustrates one of our technological adventure’s biggest implications: its effect on jobs and the workforce. After all, flesh and blood may well have once sat where an automatic checkout now resides. A suspicion of new technology and its effect on workers is nothing new, however; the Luddites of the early 19th century smashed looms in the belief that new technologies would replace them as workers. So, is the advancement of new technologies good or bad for jobs?

Wages

Such a motion was debated by two leading economists, Paul Krugman of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David R. Henderson of the Hoover Institution, in 1996. Krugman argued that technology has a negative effect on wages by forcing people into lower paid jobs. By his rationale, a technological advancement which increases productivity replaces a job which would have been needed to achieve the same level of output: in his own words, “an investment that would have added two jobs will now add only one, so there will no longer be enough jobs created.” And so, the threat of unemployment will allow employers to lower wages and will result in worse, lower-paying jobs, despite a stronger economy.

Henderson, however, argued that while wages in the U.S. peaked in 1973 and are now lower, several important factors often aren’t taken into account. According to him, when improvements in quality and the ‘Wal-Mart phenomenon’ are accounted for, real wages in the U.S. have actually risen significantly since the 1970s. He reasoned that the technology which has slashed communication and transport costs has allowed supermarkets to sell goods at a fraction of the price they used to sell for in small shops. These savings and improvements in efficiency have, according to Henderson, allowed wages to go much further than they used to.

Interestingly, while the two economists disagreed over technology’s effect on wages, both said that, in the long-term at least, technology did not lead to a reduction in jobs. It seems that technologies which increase the profitability and size of companies can only lead to more jobs in the long run.

Accurately assessing the impact of technology on our lives is like trying to stop the sea eroding a pattern in the sand. Its effect is so multi-faceted and complex, with so many nuances and variables, that true comprehension is out of our reach. Technology has altered our lives beyond recognition and, as products of it as much as it is of us, we cannot step outside of it and observe it without bias.

One could say that technology is simply a tool and that how we use it is up to us, but even that seems uncertain and an overstatement of our understanding. For we do not simply use technology; it is not simply a blank canvas on which we paint. Technology uses and influences us too, and in ways we will probably never fully understand.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The new religious dogma that controls what we say

KNEEL AND be contrite! Beg forgiveness from your new Lord! Beg, for you have blasphemed against the most sacred of commandments – those of the politically correct.
For, while we have so triumphantly shed our collective Catholic guilt, we have replaced it with an equally untouchable doctrine, practised with a similarly religious fervour. And this pervading Leftist ideology now controls the public discourse, shaping and censoring what we think and dare to say.

Of course the greatest irony of the politically correct mindset is that operates under the guise of tolerance; it is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Therein lies its genius, and ultimately, its appeal.

I mean who in their right mind could be against tolerance? Who, but a bigot or fascist, could be against equality? Who would say that Blacks, Asians and gays aren’t equal? But of course the problem is that self-evident truths like the equality of all people are used to duck difficult questions which need to be asked.

Questions like: are large numbers of non-English speaking immigrant children having an adverse effect on the education system? Do children need a mother and a father, and if so, should gays be allowed to adopt? What is a sensible level of immigration control?

In a free society, questions such as these should be welcomed and subject to dispassionate and reasoned debate. Instead, however, too often the holy-than-thou P.C. police are happy to allow despicable mud-slinging matches to take the place of rational argument. These character defamations are often not just lazy, but sinister in nature.

How else could TD Leo Varadkar’s recent comments on voluntary repatriation be described as “outrageous” and “racist” but in a culture where dissent from the P.C. consensus is not tolerated? Ah the ‘t-word’ once again, and notice what a one way street it really is; tolerance is only afforded to designated groups, chiefly minorities, and tolerance towards freedom of speech is seemingly unimportant.

How too, could columnist Kevin Myer’s piece on the difficulties facing Africa and the West’s blind faith in charity invoke the wrath of liberals – liberal, on all matters aside from freedom of expression of course – to such a degree that the Immigrant Council of Ireland actually reported him to the gardai, but in an infantile society afraid of causing offence? Does this pathetic, unelected quango actually believe that a man deserves possible imprisonment for speaking his mind?

And notice too, the hypocrisy that accompanies such sanctimonious outrage. I, for one, deem it far more offensive to attempt to deprive a man of his freedom than to engage with a controversial topic in a newspaper column. I also find it more offensive to bandy about insidious terms like ‘racist’ than dare to propose giving immigrants an incentive to return home. To label as racist – a truly horrible perversion of human nature - is to ostracise and alienate in the most severe of ways. So who really is being intolerant here?

Hostility

And where exactly did this blanket ideology come from? When one examines the origins of political correctness, its marked hostility towards freedom of speech comes as no surprise. Essentially, it is a dogma that emerged, not out of the 1960s America, but out of the Institute for Social Research in 1920’s Frankfurt. This was in all but name a Marxist think-tank.

In 1930 the institute acquired a new director, Max Horkheimer, who sought to apply Marxism to the cultural, not just economic, realm through a synthesis of Marxist thought and Freudian theory. And so Critical theory was born and is ubiquitous in its influence in our universities to this day. Essentially, the Frankfurt School – as it came to be called – believed the working classes hadn’t risen up and overthrown the bourgeoisie because they had been brainwashed and stupefied by Western culture. This meant that all traditional Western culture became the enemy of this hoped-for workers revolution and had be dismantled.

The great literary canon of our forefathers then became sexist, compliant in the oppression of women, homophobic or racist.

The Frankfurt School of thinkers also gave us Erich Fromm, who developed the scientifically- ropey premise that gender is a construct and is not in fact a reflection of any innate qualities. Every preposterous declaration from the feminist movement that men and women have the very same aptitudes is laced with Fromm’s influence.

Meanwhile, Herbert Marcuse – another Frankfurt thinker – and his book Eros and Civilization, which called for the liberation of the libido and “polymorphous perversity”, gave pseudo-intellectual credibility to 1960s hippy movement and sexual revolution.

In fact, as director of the U.S. based Center for Cultural Conservatism William S. Lind points out, there are numerous striking parallels between political correctness and Marxism. Both are totalitarian; both show contempt for certain groups of people i.e. the bourgeoisie and white middle-class males; both take from certain groups to give to those deemed more worthy – Marxism through the collectivisation of property and political correctness though affirmative action.

What those who preach the P.C. doctrine from the pulpit fail to realise is that a society which cannot discus, question and debate openly is a stagnant one. Without the means to challenge assumptions and test the boundaries of discussion ideas begin to appear self-evident – they become untouchable and progression becomes impossible.

A sign of a truly barbaric state is one which tries to silence its citizens; one ruled by political correctness is an immature and unconfident one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Immigrant schooling debate must not be stifled by political correctness

THE DEBATE opened up by Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes on the separation of immigrant children from class until they are proficient in English should be welcomed. However, so far this debate has been stifled by needless political correctness and a shameful use of the ‘race card’. Part of the problem here is that no one wants to talk about the challenges presented by immigration, and that we are governed by a hysterical fear of causing offence. It is a warm and comforting blanket of silence which we have wrapped ourselves in.

For raising an issue that elected representatives usually run a mile from, Brian Hayes should be commended. Now, we must examine the issues herein.

Already the back lash has begun. Instead of examining the reality of the situation in our schools, various individuals and organisations have simply tried to embarrass those opening the debate into submission by throwing about inflammatory terms like ‘racist’.

The New Communities Partnership, an immigrant integration group, criticised the plans as “highly irresponsible and offensive”.

Meanwhile, DCU lecturer Dr James O'Higgins-Norman came out saying that the Mr Hayes’ proposals were “clearly, although maybe not intentionally, racist in nature”. This is simply ridiculous, fallacious, and belittles the depravity of actual racism.

Firstly, the proposals would separate students on the basis of linguistic ability, not race. A student from Poland, Nigeria or Pakistan who has competent English would be unaffected. Secondly, we must face up to the fact that the large number of immigrants with little or no English in our schools poses numerous difficulties. Simply how does a teacher impart information with a child if he or she cannot understand what the teacher is saying?

Complex

Considering we how have classrooms more than half full with immigrant children, who may speak several different languages between them, the difficulties must be immense.

For the first time, we are asking our teachers go beyond their usual remit and teach people with little or no English. Inevitably, time which would be otherwise spent progressing through coursework must now be spent communicating with those who don’t understand the language.

One can imagine the absurdity of trying to teach a complex subject such as chemistry or physics to someone who can’t even understand what you are saying.

Most of the comment on the subject has regarded how separate immersion classes would, or would not, help a non-English speaker to learn the language. Very little has been said about the other side of the same coin – that is how immigration affects learning among Irish children. We must also ask what is in the best interests of those children.

It is undeniable - and perhaps this is reflected in the ASTI’s support of the measures – that having children who cannot speak English in a class will slow down the progress of other students. This is simply common sense. There are a limited number of hours in the school day, and those spent trying to communicate basic, non-academic information are hours wasted. The implications of such wasted hours for Leaving Cert students, in particular, cannot be shied away from.

No one wants the extended segregation of immigrant children, which would be detrimental to cohesion, but an initial program of immersion, separate from the main class would be of benefit to both immigrant and Irish students. Once their English skills improve, they then could be integrated into the class as normal.

Whatever the best option may be, we must have calm, open and honest public debate about this issue. Burying our heads in the sand is not an option.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Women taking abortion case were not forced to do anything

THE WORDING of the news reports regarding three Irish women who are challenging our abortion laws at the European Court of Human Rights was as interesting as it was misleading. According to RTE news and others, "the women say their rights were denied by being forced to seek terminations outside the State". I'm unsure as to whether these are the words of the women themselves or the media, however they display a very poor understanding of the word 'forced'.

Nobody was 'forced' to do anything. I always thought that the central pillar of the Pro-choice movement's argument was "the right to choose". It is interesting how semantics obscure the reality of such situations.

These women chose to travel abroad for an abortion, as was their legal right. They were not coerced, or obliged to. In fact, they embodied the very notion of 'choice' the Family Planning Association et al. constantly shout so loudly about. As a sovereign nation (just about), we make laws and our citizens are expected to abide by them. If you disagree with a law in your particular country you may travel elsewhere to avail of different principals, however, nobody will have forced you to travel; it will be your decision.

Reasonable

Would it be reasonable, for example, for someone to say that they were forced to travel to the Netherlands to avail of their lax drug laws? What if they are an addict? Of course, such a proposition would be greeted with laughter.

Ah but you see abortion is a 'human right', and human rights are good and just, and can't be contested. As David Quinn remarked in an excellent piece in the Independent the Friday before last:

"Who could possibly be against 'human rights'? Who indeed? But, equally, who could be against morality, until you discover that what is being foisted upon you is Catholic morality, or Victorian morality, or Communist morality, or Nazi morality, or socialist morality or secular humanist morality, or whatever type of morality it is that you happen to be against."

For many people, abortion is not a 'human right', but in fact abhorrent to the very notion of rights. The sacrosanct label of 'human rights' appeals to people because it implies something indisputable, but the label does guarantee any such assumption.

Once again, an alien body of unelected judges - who aren't even in our jurisdiction - will try and dictate our laws to us. How this doesn't incense ever man, woman and child on this island, I do not know. Then again, we'll get to vote on Lisbon again soon, and like a flock led by their shepherd we'll vote 'correctly' this time. Mark my words.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attitudes to sex ignored in favor of condom ideology

Often, when confronted with a problem, it is easier to choose an appealing but ultimately futile solution, rather than determine and tackle the real cause - there is always a sexy option. So is the case with our response to our STI and unplanned pregnancy crisis.

Between 1995 and 2006 there has been a trebling of STI cases in Ireland, while in the last decade cases of Chlamydia have skyrocketed eightfold. True figures are almost certainly far higher as many infections go undiagnosed. It goes without saying that our recently liberated sexual culture has also had massive implications for children and our notion of what a family is.

The last Census in 2006 counted 189,213 one parent families. This means that well over 189, 213 children is this country do not live with both their father and mother, usually the former.

And of course, we all know the answer to this growing crisis, don’t we? More condoms! Condoms for all! Free for every man, woman and child!

Hold on a minute. The sale of condoms here was fully deregulated 15 years ago, and yet STI rates have not so much as remained steady, but in fact risen astronomically. In the historically more liberal UK, they have the highest teen pregnancy rates in Western Europe. Some will argue that this is due to ignorance surrounding contraception, but the 1993 Education Act made sex education in UK schools statutory.

In other words, something is clearly amiss in the debate on how to tackle the problem. While organisations such as the Dublin AIDS Alliance and The Irish Family Planning Association constantly advocate so-called safe sex as the means out of our own STI epidemic, a larger, more vital element of the debate is constantly ignored.

That is the issue of our values and attitudes regarding sex.

Look, in my altogether limited experience I know of two occasions personally, and another a friend told me of, where the girl involved was perfectly willing to have unprotected sex (my friend and I graciously declined). It is also worth pointing out that in the first two incidences both girls were completely sober. Now, what this tells us is not that there needs to be a greater availability of condoms, or a reduction in their cost, but that there is a shockingly blasé attitude to sex among many people. That isn’t to say that women are more culpable than men; I am speaking only from experience (I am one of those quaint, old-fashioned fellows who only swings one way, so I wouldn’t know much about the joys of having a man between the sheets).


The point here isn’t that no one had a condom to hand – people will always be caught unprepared on occasion – but that these girls, who really had so much more to lose than any man ever could, were happy to take such a stupid and irresponsible risk. People in Ireland 30 years ago didn’t have access to contraception, but they didn’t contract the myriad of exotically-named infections on the scale we do today. They didn’t bring so many children who will never know their father into the world either. Clearly, what kept them from the predicament we now face was their attitude to sex and the value they placed on it. Now the sentiment seems to be if you wear condom anything is acceptable. It no longer matters who you have sex with, when, or why.

Now, of course I know that the Ireland of yesteryear was apparently bleak and repressive, a land where the local priest roamed, village by village, striking down the peasantry with biblical versus of fire and brimstone. We’ve heard all that, I know no one wants to go back, and I’m not suggesting we should. But why can’t progress and the wisdom of the past co-exist? I also know that the sexual and social revolution, from which much good admittedly has come, is a sacred cow for most of the media in this country. But it must not go unquestioned.

Perhaps there is much to be learned from the gravity that previous generations attached to sex. The meaning that they gave to sex was more powerful in so many ways than any contraceptive. When sex became meaningless and casual, contraception alone could not stop the rise of STIs because self control and restraint became redundant, while risk-taking became inevitable. When something becomes easily obtained and is demystified, why suffer the annoyance of its refusal, irrespective of the circumstances? And what about when contraceptives fail? Condoms have a 3% failure rate when used correctly - try selling trips abroad where the flights crash only 3% of the time.

Perhaps our attitudes to sex are just another product of our consumerist culture where saying ‘no’ simply isn’t an option anymore. Whatever the case may be, we are going to need a lot more than simply condoms to shake us out of our current sexual health crisis. Instant gratification is the dogma which we now live by and no piece of latex will ever change that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Let ministers set an example and tighten their own belts as well

So there must be big cuts in spending according to the Government - €500 million worth in fact. Trade unions have been warned that in order to rein in spending, pay freezes in the public sector may be inevitable. Of course this is a perfectly reasonable, albeit unpalatable for those involved, prospect. The simple, unfortunate reality is that now that there is less money to go round, wage increases cannot be sustained. I'm sure there are many who feel they deserve a little more at the end of the week, but at this point the greater economic welfare of the country must come first. That odious phrase "the greater good” springs to mind.

So while nurses, gardai, teachers and many other workers who form the backbone of our society brace themselves for rough times ahead, one group of public servants at least won't have too many financial worries. On top of wage increases set for next year of between five and seven per cent (which were diverted after a public up roar, but not cancelled), politicians will now benefit from increases in their expense allowances. These allowances cover travel, accommodation, food, and mobile phone expenses and are also available for thousands of the country's civil servants.
Now, I imagine the workers of this country find the idea of pay freezes a little hard to swallow when TDs earning €95,000 basic are set to have their sizeable wallets wadded further. Why can't our leaders (and opposition for that matter, who have been curiously silent on the matter) set an example and reject these wage and allowance increases, and swallow the bitter pill that is the recession like the rest of us? Let them lead the way and show the trade unions that wage restraint is necessary; so necessary in fact that they themselves are prepared to suffer. I'd imagine a colossal amount of money could be retained for the public coffers should the petrol and accommodation costs of TDs, councilors and other public servants be reined in. And it’s not just a case of deserved expenses being more carefully managed. When one examines the requirements for claiming various expenses, the true extent of the waste and indeed, greed becomes all too apparent. For instance, a TD may claim travel and accommodation expenses if they live over 25km from Leinster house.

25km? Wow. Who in there right mind would travel 25km to work? Right now the sound of three quarters of the population of Leinster grinding their teeth in commuter frustration is swelling in my ears.

For God's sake, who nowadays doesn't travel at least that far into work everyday - "everyday" incidentally, is not a concept with which frequenters of the Dail or the Seanad would be familiar. And guess what? If I travel to work, eat, or call some one, guess who pays for it? You guessed it, mise. Most people in this country have to foot the bill for their living expenses, that's what their wages are for. What exactly is a TD supposed to do with his/her generous pay check? I mean everything you, or I worry about is already taken care of. Look of course I understand that some (not all, Dublin TDs also claim hefty expenses) politicians have to travel large distances and are often away from home because of their work. And naturally they need some compensation for this. But what we have now is ridiculous and wasteful. Last year the top claimant, TD Paul Kehoe, claimed over €104,000. Is this kind of expenditure really necessary?

First of all, instead of claiming €140 a night for a hotel, how about politicians stay in a B&B or travel lodge. They'll manage I'm sure. Considering "normal" people have to pay their own way when they travel to work, how about politicians be given a fuel allowance for trips outside of a 50km radius of Leinster house, instead of a 25km one? They could pay themselves for their first 50km travelled in a day, and be reimbursed for each kilometre after that. And why not roll such changes out amongst all civil servants? Such changes would still represent reasonable financial support for people serving the state, without bankrupting the tax payer at a time of economic meltdown. It is time for the Government to start walking the walk, instead of just talking the talk. The first politician to turn down his/her wage and expenses increases and set a precedent could be guaranteed their seat returned to them in 2011.

People don't like hypocrites.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Arrognace of the EU over Lisbon is tiresome

So, apparently if we are to vote 'No' in the upcoming vote on the Lisbon treaty we will "pay a price", or so says the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Mr. Barroso's comments made front page in yesterday's Independent and are sure to be another headache for the 'Yes' campaign.

And the 'Yes' side is right to be worried, for it is this kind of arrogance, and contempt for the voter, which is beginning to turn the average punter away from Europe, and I for one wouldn't blame them.

What exactly is this "price" and why must we pay it? In typical Eurocrat fashion we are being bullied into voting a certain way, rather than being presented with reasonable and concise arguments. We are being treated like naughty children who persist in misbehaving, having the audacity not to acquiesce to Europe's will.

One only has to look back at the shameful lack of regard for democracy which we were shown in 2005 for the Nice treaty, take one. I say 'take one' because somehow these referenda can be rescheduled depending on the result; we can all rehearse our lines till we get them right, so the charade seems to go.

Now, it would be foolish to vote 'No' purely (I say purely, not that it may not be a factor, which is reasonable) because of contemptuous politicians, what matters here is the content of the treaty. I am voting 'No' because of the various undemocratic and super state processes enshrined in the treaty. It may be argued that the treaty is good for Europe (although I don't think it is), but it is certainly not good for Ireland, and that is what matters to me as an Irish citizen.

However, even you were to think that ratification of the treaty is a good thing, this EU intimidation is sure to irritate. The EU commission is doing itself no favors in passing this treaty by belittling the Irish people. I'm sick of it, and I'm sure many others are as well. We decide what is best for us in a democracy, and our decision is automatically the right one; if you believe in democracy, these notions are to be accepted.

By all means vote 'Yes' in June if that is what you think is best for the country. Vote 'Yes' if you believe we will all benefit. Hell, even if you vote 'Yes' only because you like that blue flag with all those little golden stars, that's fine.

But don't vote 'Yes' just because Europe says so.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

UK Abortion Law Needs To Be Reconsidered

Having watched the Dispatches documentary ‘Abortion: What we need to know’, which aired on channel 4 a while back, I feel compelled to make some observations on this endlessly divisive and controversial topic.

As this sensitive issue has been debated over so many times and on so many forums, I wish to draw attention not simply to the question of whether abortion is right or wrong, but to some of the extremely thought provoking questions that were raised in my mind while watching the aforementioned documentary.

Certainly the program’s frankness and unrelenting desire to question was refreshingly insightful, especially with an issue which rarely seems to be subject to clear and concise discussion.

For those who didn’t watch the program, its main focus was the question of reducing the upper time limit for abortion in the U.K down from the current limit of 24 weeks. The movement for such a reduction has gathered momentum in the wake of the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion and due to the continuing advances in medical science that allow premature babies to live longer than ever before.
This means that for the first time since the law was passed, we now have a situation where fetuses which are perfectly viable outside womb with proper care, can be freely aborted.

Further controversy has been created by the assertion by a U.K professor that fetuses may be able to feel pain after 17 weeks and that doctors should consider performing abortions under anesthetic. Clearly if this is in fact the case, the procedure at that stage is no less than barbaric, and predictably, the out cry caused by this possibility has been sizable.

However to me, the sudden apprehension expressed by professionals and laity alike, that a child may suffer in the womb is deeply unsettling in its very reasoning. To suddenly be disgusted at the practice because pain may be experienced by a fetus, and to have no problem with it if it’s done ‘humanely’ is nothing sort of hypocritical and irrational.

Surely the possibility that a fetus is sentient by reason of its ability to feel pain, and not the actual experience of pain, is what's relevant here. To
accept its probable consciousness, and then reason its destruction acceptable by ensuring it is painless, is both shocking and ludicrous in equal measure.

If we accept that logic, is it alright to kill someone on the street if it is done without the victim suffering? I believe most people would say it is despicably wrong irrespective of the circumstances. Surely their right to life does not depend on the suffering which could be inflicted upon them.

Another aspect of the documentary which struck me was the extremely graphic and disturbing footage of an abortion which was shown and labeled as ‘pro-life propaganda’. While upsetting, it seems unfair to me to label it simply as propaganda, with all the negative connotations that go with that term.

If it is merely a vivid depiction of reality, don’t people have a right to know? Excessive censorship of something so imperative cannot be conducive to a well informed public debate. In my opinion, to deny people the opportunity to see the procedure for what it really is both a belittlement of people’s rationale and a shocking form of denial. Graphic photos of war time atrocity are applauded for their ability to “bring home the reality” of war. And what about road safety campaigns?

To say one form of exposure is heroic and essential for its function to inform, while another is propaganda tugging at the heart strings, is hypocritical. It is simply because of the hugely sensitive nature of the subject that one is seen as manipulative while the other is portrayed as eye-opening.

To say that these images prevent rational debate is also fallacious. To deny that we are hugely emotional beings is to adopt an extremely utilitarian attitude which would render many of our laws and social codes obsolete. It is illegal to hurt someone else not simply because it serves society by making sure there are people still left to turn the economic cogs of capitalism, but also because murder, theft, assault etc. emotionally repel and offend us.

However the most unsettling aspect of the whole debate was one which was skimmed over, but not touched on extensively. While the termination of a healthy fetus is restricted to 24 weeks, a fetus suffering from an abnormality can be aborted up to full term.

An abnormality may even include something such as a cleft palate which is far from chronically de-habilitating. At this stage of pregnancy, questions of viability are of course obsolete because the fetus is a fully formed, independent being. So it is very difficult to credibly argue that a child is not involved.

With this type of abortion, a stark distinction is being made between people who are equal and those who are “more equal”.
“Normal” human beings in the womb are entitled to be protected from suffering by having a limit placed on termination. People with “abnormalities” however do not enjoy this same entitlement.

This sends out an odious message about how we as a society value some people as being more “useful” than others. How can it be wrong and illegal to kill a six month old fetus and it be ethical and perfectly legal to kill more a fully formed fetus that happens to have a handicap (no matter how minor, though to me the degree is irrelevant)?.

The simple reality is that this draconian law came into being at a time when knowledge of the unborn child was not what it is today. Forty years on, fresh debate and a re-evaluation of the law and our attitudes must take place.

Even far more liberal countries across Europe all have limits in place way below the 24 week limit.

Whether your stance is pro-life or pro-choice, I think the arguments for more stringent controls are over whelming. While the question of earlier abortions may be contentiously debated and wrangled over, the debate raging in Britain about late abortions is one which seems comparably clear cut and discernable.

Surely it is madness to have a situation where in one room a doctor is doing everything possible to ensure a premature baby will live, while in another room, in the same hospital, a fetus of the same age and viability, and with the same functioning organs, hands and feet, is being aborted?

Change does not come about easily and it is far, far easier to turn a blind eye and ignore the facts than to engage with a topic which has been accepted as ok for many years. Surely now is the time to reconsider and rethink?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'm still here!

Final college exams are approaching fast (just a week away now!) and inevitably the frequency of my posts has suffered. I'm still here and will hopefully get posting a lot more regularly this summer after the ol' exams. There certainly is so much worth posting on at the moment!

If there is one thing that could be said to be central in my life right now, it is change. My life as an undergraduate is coming to an end, Maynooth will soon no longer be home, and talk of careers and the future seems less abstract then it used to; and we have a new Taoiseach - only time will tell what this will mean for the country, it shall be interesting to see.

It is incredible how complete change is and how we never really understand its power till we are right in the middle of it. You think that you have found your place in the world every so often, when really you have only made a step - one of many - along the way. Of course these steps make life what it is, but nothing is final, nothing is certain and nothing is immutable. It is important of course to live and savour these steps as they come and not simply see them as rungs on a ladder to something greater. Life is now; just because nothing stays the same doesn't mean we can't enjoy things as they happen, and can't look forward to the future at the same time. Here is a quote from C.S Lewis which I think says a lot:

The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one's "own" or "real" life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one's life.

There is a lot to think about and more to do, so I better get to it! Till the next post...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Biofuels represent lip service from the left

We in the civilized west like to feel that we care about the state of the world, the environment and the plight of nations less well-off then ourselves. Lip service is paid in the form of charity and aid, and while these are of course often worthy pursuits, I can’t help but feel that they are sometimes more about self congratulation than actual altruism. We like to help, but more than anything we like to feel good about ourselves.

The liberal left has always sought to align itself with various noble causes, seemingly promoting a less myopic and selfish world-view where the good of others besides ourselves is considered.
Their latest and most topical worthy cause is surely their crusade to end global warming.

One of the ways being championed as a measure to halt rising global temperatures - and one which is already a reality - is the use of biofuels.
However, as my reading on the subject becomes more substantial, I become more and more convinced that biofuel makes little sense, and is a perfect example of the platitudes liberals dish out to policy makers and the public in general.
Now, I should make it clear that I am not relishing the thought of taking up an aquatic lifestyle courtesy of melting ice caps, nor do I want to have to buy scuba gear for the daily trek to the corner shop.
I am as worried about the threat that global warming appears to present as anyone, and I am not so naive or arrogant as to suggest that we can ignore the issue and carry on living the way we do without facing repercussions.
But bio-fuel seems to promise a lot more than it can deliver and major questions abound regarding its feasibility, efficiency and the consequences of its production.

The charity Concern recently highlighted the issue of the global rise in food prices due to the production of bio-fuels derived from food crops such as maize, corn and wheat.
This diversion of staple crops away from food production, and the setting aside of arable land for bio fuel cultivation, holds potentially disastrous consequences for the vast numbers of people living in the third world on subsistence diets.
As well as this dubious effect, the promotion of biofuel has led to further destruction of the rainforests - a resource already in a perilous position - in order to accommodate these new crops.
Considering that rainforests produce one fifth of the earth’s oxygen, and help counter-act global warming, this seems very counter productive, not to mention idiotic.

More and more indications of the inadequacies of biofuel continue to present themselves; and yet still both the E.U and U.S. are determined to significantly increase their use of biofuels, while our own government has abolished the VAT on biofuel crops.

Only last year, a UN consortium expressed concern about the social and environmental repercussions of biofuel production, while in October, Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen suggested that rapeseed oil and corn produce as much Nitrous Oxide as to greater contribute to global warming than the fossil fuels they replace.

Despite these damning findings, the Western world continues to invest heavily in what looks to be a pointless exercise; already it is estimated that a quarter of the maize grown in the U.S. is used for biofuel production.

And why are the people in power and the general public so keen on something so worthless?

Because offering subsidies and tax cuts to placate the problem is a lot easier than accepting the fact that our current lifestyles simply aren’t sustainable; and these measures are a lot less politically risky. No government is going to say that we need stop living our comfortable first world lifestyle, and I for one wouldn’t want them to.

So instead of real action, we are content to make insignificant - and even potentially harmful - gestures that convince us that we are doing something about the problem.
I’m not saying that we all need to give up all our western comforts; maybe greater frugality is enough or maybe there’s another way, but the promotion of biofuel is more about self satisfaction than anything else. It is a hollow gesture that offers a comforting, but false, reassurance.

If this is its goal, it succeeds; for in the west we like to feel good about ourselves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finally, a "compelling" reason to vote yes for Lisbon

Despite the shameful lack of information and open debate on the Lisbon treaty provided by the government, it is good to see that some people at least are making an effort to present the facts as they are.



This is what the new young Fine Gael flyers in support of the Lisbon treaty, which are currently circulating around my college, look like. Now, not to mind the fact that they are incredibly patronising towards young people, I really don't see what some greased-up guy in Speedos (in a fecthing Euro blue too mind) has to do with the Lisbon treaty or the issues involved. It is eye-catching I'll give them that.

From what I can gather, this seems to be suggesting that a vote for the treaty will positively effect the endowment of a certain area of my body and presumably transform me into some sort of sex demigod. Gee, those Eurocrats think of everything don't they? It's nice to know they've got my back. What's next, a date with Angelina Jolie for every male prospective voter? Fantastic, I'm sold anyway.

And just so the ladies don't feel left out; want bigger breasts? Well, vote for Lisbon!

Hey why have a meaningful debate when you can get implants instead? Brilliant, just brilliant. Is this supposed to distract us from the fact that a vote on a treaty of vital importance is just around the corner?
Stay sharp people, we are being taken for a ride.







Now, where did I leave my Speedos?


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Exactly who are the feminists representing?

Ok, so once again a small minority of moral guardians tells us what is good for us, despite the fact that no harm is being done to anyone.

According to today’s Indo, heated protests from about 70 staff and students over a qualifier for the Miss Ireland competition held in UCD, have ensured that the college will not hold any beauty contests in the future. Well hurrah for that. Among those involved in the protest was Ailbhe Smyth (described in the paper as a "lesbian feminist lecturer), who said that, "It was a sexist money-making exercise which should not have been fostered in a university setting. It was a disgrace and that's why we protested.”

Equality Studies Professor Kathleen Lynch added that, "It is not the job of a university to promote an event like this".

Hmmm...Perhaps it is not the job of a college lecturer to dictate what events the student body can and cannot hold. Look I'm sorry but this is nonsense and has been over blown in the extreme. If some girls want to go strut their stuff on a catwalk, and if people want to watch them (you mean men like looking at pretty girls, and girls like being pretty??! *gasp*), then they can fill their boots.

Presumably, the Equality Studies professor felt that having a beauty contest discriminated against those not so beautiful, and suggested that some people are more attractive than others. Well, guess what? Some people are more attractive than others. It is unfair, but that's life; go find something worthwhile to protest about.

When will some feminists (I’m not saying all, the term is horribly vague anyway) grasp the following notions?

  • People like pretty faces; people are judged on their looks all the time. It is just the way it is. Stopping a beauty pageant is not an effective way to up heave the system (as if that could be done, and as if that would necessarily be desirable).

  • Girls like to dress up nicely and look good - perhaps they are not exactly unwilling victims?

What is it to these protesters, if there are girls projecting themselves in such a way? I thought feminism was about a woman's choice. Did anyone ask the models involved if they felt they were being exploited? I suspect not. I don't see how these feminist reactionaries are upholding women's rights whatsoever.

If I was interested in such pointless and sanctimonious preaching, I'd turn on the box and tune in to Barney the self-righteous, purple dinosaur.

So this is how it comes to pass that 70 protesters decide what is acceptable for 26,000 students to watch. Does that make sense?
We often hear about rights for minorities, but often it is these voices which speak loudest.

And of course, one can never question the legitimacy of a special interest group's cause as they'll risk verbal onslaughts which pronounce on the naysayers the labels of bigot, sexist, racist etc.

Shouldn't the majority have the say on most (if not all) issues?
What about the majority’s rights?

Marginalised voices: I can think of no more laughable a term.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Democracy – Is ours the best we can do?

Democracy, elections, voting; these are terms that many of us take for granted, and accept skeptically as the hollow sacred cows of Western society. While most of us accept the principals of our system, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people see voting as a depressingly futile exercise.

The reasons for apathy among voters (and I think young people in particular) are as understandable as they are numerous.
The perception that nothing ever changes is not an irrational or unfounded one. As you are no doubt aware, we have had what has effectively been the same government in power for the last 10 years and we will probably have the same for five more.

To give a sense of the ever stagnant political roundabout which has persisted since the inception of the state, one only has to look over the past 70 years of Irish politics.
Most of this time has seen Fianna Fail as the party in power.

The typically frustrating cowardice of the political scene is bound to further disillusion any prospective voter. If a candidate takes a strong stance on any major issue, especially if it be controversial, he/she is sure to alienate some portion of the electorate.

Therefore, to avoid the shameful practice of actually taking a stance on anything, many politicians feel the need to offer endless rhetoric and platitudes in their manifestos rather than actual opinions.
This is what you and I call politician speak.

How often do you actually hear a public representative make known his/her stance on a difficult issue? Sometimes one would be forgiven for thinking it more likely to see George Bush and Osama Bin Laden chatting amicably down at your local, then to hear a straight answer from a politician.

I barely even blame them, they are people too and don’t want to lose their job as much as the next person. It is we after all, that vote into power habitual say-nothings and ineffectual baby kissers - of course that is not to say that all politicians are like this, some are quite competent at promoting adult-infant public relations.

Despite these annoyances, I do still believe it is worthwhile and important to use one’s vote to influence the democratic process. It’s the best hand out of a poor deck, but having rubbish cards means that at the very least you’re still in the game.

Likewise it is better to have very little say in the running of the country than none at all. Perhaps more people could be pursued to get involved if the current process did not seem so pitifully impotent in its assertion of people power.

I’m not saying that we should change the current PR process or that another way would necessarily be better, but I’ve never heard a serious suggestion of there being other ways of doing things.
And no I’m not talking about a “democracy is weak so a totalitarian loony state is the way forward” kind of idea, but there are purer forms of democracy in use out there.

While on my travels over the summer, I met a guy from Switzerland who informed me of how they operate politically over there. The level of influence each citizen can exert over political decisions is far greater than our own in several ways. They work on the basis of direct democracy, a system that theoretically gives citizens a direct say over any law passed by parliament. If 50,000 signatures against a law passed by parliament can be collected within 100 days, a referendum is scheduled to decide whether the law is ratified or rejected. This means that anyone (provided they can gather support in the form of signatories) can object to any law which they feel to be detrimental to the good of the country, and the matter can then be decided by the majority of the public; not by public officials.

Not only that, but any citizen may propose an amendment to the constitution which must be voted on upon gathering 100,000 signatures. When such a proposal is made, the parliament usually drafts their own alternative - usually a sort of compromise - and then a referendum is held to decide whether to accept the original proposal, the compromise or neither.

To my mind, this sounds like what a healthy democracy promises but often fails to deliver; that is accountability, people power and the possibility of real change.

Would such a system work in this country? I don’t know, but my instincts say why not?

Could giving ordinary people such control over the management of their own country cause them to (shock horror) think for themselves? Would we start caring enough to not take mediocrity and ineptitude lying down? Who knows? Such speculation is surely dangerous talk.

However, it seems hard to imagine that such an empowerment of the public would not inspire people to take a greater interest in the decisions that affect our lives.

So maybe the Swiss model is the way forward, or maybe we are simply happy to repeat our voting habits over and over. What ever the case may be, the issue of how our democracy works is surely worth a debate.

A new model of 21st century democracy need not be deemed far-fetched or so far out of reach.

Wow

I've just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, my mind truly has been blown.

I don't think I shall be able to sleep tonight.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Explain Please

Ok, so this whole mating scene confuses me once more. I was out at the pub last night when I was approached by a girl around my own age who pointing to corner of the bar, told me that her friend liked me. Hmmm...Wow this seems a little too good to be true I think to myself.

Now taken aback (and being a pansy at the best of times), I basically chicken out of approaching the girl straight away, and then lose sight of her.

While berating myself for having no balls, the girl who told me of her friend's interest, approaches me once again and, clearly not remembering me, points to another girl and says that she too has an interest in me that may go beyond platonic relations. Wow that sure seems lucky, I think to myself, I hadn't realised that short, freckled and shy was in this year (everybody go, "awww":D).

When I tell this girl that she had said the same thing to me minutes earlier about another "friend", she realises the game is up, curses at herself for being found out, and incredibly, says something to the effect of, "ah sure try it on with her anyway, it would make my night". What the F**k??!

I wasn't aware of this new sport that involves setting up guys with girls that have no interest in them and watching them inevitably crash and burn.

Well I'm glad to be of some entertainment bitch.

This girl did the same thing with one of my friends as well, so there was no doubt that her game was to raise guys’ expectations and then dash them for the laugh, not to mind embarrassing the shit out of her friends (that is if she even knew these girls).

Can someone explain to me what this is about? Does this sadistic, spiteful crap happen often out on the town? Thoughts? Anyone??

Luckily I managed to dull my seething rage with several pints of bland, overpriced, piss water beer. God, I love the Irish pub scene.

Anyone heading out tonight?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Travellers themselves hold key to improved conditions

As we as a country move further towards a diverse and pluralistic society, the question of the integration of minorities proves more pertinent, and indeed more troublesome, than ever before. We as a society must decide where the line between the acceptance of a general cultural consensus, and the accommodation of its transgression, is drawn.

At a recent seminar entitled 'Celebrating Traveller Culture', sociologist Fr. Michael MacGreil suggested that the creation of separate schools for travellers would help in the preservation of their culture. He also went on to say that when Travellers are “treated adequately their conditions will improve”, and negative attitudes regarding them could be replaced by more “reasonable and just dispositions”.

This of course raises the question of what exactly is in need of preservation, and at what point do cultural differences present an obstacle to social cohesiveness. While I respect any group’s right to observe their own traditions and customs, that does not negate their responsibility to integrate into a certain social structure. This includes observing the rule of law and, where possible, contributing to the economy through employment. It is quite apparent that as a whole, and when compared to the rest of the general population, Travellers- in general- do not fit these criteria.

While I have no doubt that Travellers experience widespread discrimination; if they expect to be treated with respect they must, in turn, respect their settled neighbors and the system which supports them. It is a two-way road.

Travellers make up a disproportionate number of the prison population, their children are six times more likely to be taken into alternative care and have a paltry 16% rate of employment. These statistics are simply unacceptable. The fact that the vast majority of the Travelling community contributes nothing in the way of economic activity is a reality which can’t be ignored, and no amount of politically correct pontificating to the contrary changes this.

With the provision of rights comes responsibility. Their responsibility lies in their obligation to reasonably assimilate with the rest of the population. If their culture is to be preserved, then they must also accept the more shameful aspects of their lifestyle and work towards there eradication. So surely to improve attitudes regarding them and, indeed their conditions in general, greater community contribution and commitment is required.

The creation of a two-tiered school system would surely serve to further promote an insular community when their contribution to the general community is often minimal as it is.

Fr. MacGreil also implored that we foster greater interaction between the settled and Travelling communities through local community projects and events. Surely the most fundamental and obvious place for such relations is in the class room self? Why segregate them in school and expect to foster good relations elsewhere? And if we instigate separate schools for travellers, why stop there? Why not have schools for Poles, Africans, Muslims and every colour and creed imaginable?

Because to do so would be to create countless groups of people disengaged from the rest of society. Instead of a someway homogenous society, we would be creating an incoherent mass of self contained tribes that have little interest in the greater community. If we are to have a diverse and multi cultural society (as we now have), then we must ensure that it is one where the various minorities involved integrate effectively and accept our cultural norms. This goes for the Travelling community as well. Is there not a point where the accommodation of alternative cultures actually threatens the broader consensus? I believe so.

It is unfortunate that Travellers fare so poorly in terms of education and life expectancy and it goes without saying that attempts should be made to rectify this. However to say that it is simply prejudice and the general population’s ill treatment of Travellers that is to blame for their woes, as Fr. MacGreil does, is naive and incorrect. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, most Traveller children receive little in the way of a steady education and as a result most leave school at a very early age.

Now, if they are poorly educated and have trouble finding employment that is due to a decision they made allowing their children to drop out of the school system. What should we do to remedy this? Perhaps create a network of mobile schools on wheels to allow education to go where ever the pupils do?

To deprive your children of an education in this day and age is simply irresponsible and destined to create problems in later life. So what then? If the state were to intervene and seek custody the cries of “discrimination!” would be left ringing in our ears for as long as it takes a sprightly young solicitor to prepare a case.

If they choose to live the way they do, the state can only go as far as reasonable to accommodate them; this means not going so far as to be of detriment to the majority. I believe the solution to the problems they encounter lies in their own hands to a large degree. Playing the victim will not solve anything and perhaps it is time that some of them accepted this.
For in a democracy it is the majority that should dictate to the minority and not the other way round.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Snowball fights, cheap beer and great conversation

It could have been the first time I watched, horrified, a glorious ice cream cone melt away through my fingers, or the realisation (courtesy of a careless younger brother) that Lego fortresses aren’t quite as indestructible as a young military mind might hope. I don’t know when it happened, but one the first lessons life ever taught me must have been that change is inevitable and affects all. As a final year student approaching the end of college, change again comes knocking, but this time the stakes seem just a little bit higher than the state of a Lego outpost at the foot of my bed.

So many conflicting emotions intertwine when thinking about leaving college; sorrow, excitement, fear - all buzzing and babbling, scrambling for my attention.

It feels like something fundamental is coming to an end and that loose ends, should we have any, must be tied now or remain forever unattended. An ultimatum has been issued, and we may wonder whether it is time to mend a rift, or tell that someone, or to finish whatever it is we feel we still have to do. We don’t need the masks we wear anymore as saving face no longer matters.

I remember leaving school, and of course there was a sense of uncertainty, of new beginnings, and to a degree, of finality. But somehow it never seemed as real as the prospect of leaving college does now. When I left school I knew I’d still be home at weekends, that I’d still have my teenage security blanket that was cooked meals and freshly ironed laundry; I’ll be the first to admit that while my head and heart may have flew the coup, my wallet and stomach hung on a little more earnestly. And of course as time went on, and as I become more and more addicted to the student lifestyle, I went home less and less. But there was always that sense that I really hadn’t grown up yet; the debt collector was just a benign lady called mother, rather than a slickly-dressed bank manager looking to repossess the house.

Then there is that strange feeling of being out of time. One foot is in the present, another the future, while another reaches back nostalgically over old ground – never mind how strange it would be to have all three legs necessary for such a feat. Between concentrating on studying for impending exams, this year and next, post-grads and careers – all the while looking over the past three years – it’s almost hard to know where one is at all.

It might sound cheesy, but I really do believe that the experiences of these last three years are the ones that I will remember all my life. Memories of the weird, the funny, the random, and the spontaneous are etched irremovably in my mind; many happy, a few sad, but none mundane. I’m glad to say that my memories are nearly all of good times, and there were so very many: snowball fights outside the campus apartments, parties where you hardly knew anyone’s name and still didn’t care, ridiculously long lie-ins, midmorning television, bad beer and great conversation, the list goes on. Only a person with the emotion of a Findus crispy pancake could resist uttering at least a small sigh at the end of college.

And of course I’ve learned a lot, much of which wasn’t - and indeed could never have been - taught in any lecture theatre. More than anything else I have learned that I know very little. So many assumptions I had about the life and the world before entering college no longer seem certain anymore. I can only speak about the subjects I’ve studied, but in English in particular, you can forget all you think you know about life and the world. You soon learn that basic assumptions are there only to be shattered.

More than ever before, as all this comes to an end, an opportunity to really prove oneself to the world and find a place in it awaits. It is scary, but incredibly exciting, and as much as I will miss college, the big (not so) bad world is calling and I’m looking forward to it. Everything changes, but the experiences we have will always be ours.

I will end with a quotation by the author Anatole France which describes such change more eloquently than I could ever hope to:

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another".


Friday, April 11, 2008

Infidelity still causes suffering even if we try and convince ourselves otherwise

It is fascinating how a societies’ attitude towards a practice can change over time; from one of abhorrence and revulsion, to one where an act is seen as acceptable, unremarkable and even inevitable. A great many deeds, which in eras past would have been considered heinous by the general population, are now seen as acceptable forms of conduct.

We often call these shifts in attitudes progress, and for the most part, this is what they represent; I feel no compulsion to patrol the seaside in search of anything so obscene as a lone bare ankle for instance.

However when repulsion towards an act is rooted in common sense and logic, and therefore that act can be viewed as unethical, is a such shift in attitudes necessary?

When such an act becomes acceptable, is it a regression or progression which is taking place?

Infidelity has long been frowned upon in our culture because of the obvious pain and suffering it causes. But like many other misdemeanours, attitudes regarding the issue appear to have softened, and it is not viewed in the black and white manner in which it used to be.
Of course not every instance of unfaithfulness is the same and it would foolish and callous to suggest otherwise; empathy is key in understanding the rationale behind any act.

However a worrying level of complacency regarding unfaithful behaviour seems to be all too prevalent. I have met many people who seem to simply not care about the hurt they have caused.

Back in January the Irish Independent ran several stories about everyday people who have had, or are in the middle of having an extra-marital affair (check out the first of the stories here: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/relationships/desperately-seeking--someone-nsa-1277059.html) .

What unsettled, and quite frankly depressed me about these articles was not the seemingly large number of people willing to cheat, but the sheer cavalier attitude of the unfaithful spouse’s interviewed.

There was no sense of accountability, duty or responsibility conveyed in any of their explanations for their actions.
What they did was always either no big deal or some one else’s fault. One straying husband described how having a no strings relationship, “suits [him] fine”.
And there is the crux of the matter; a sense of entitlement to pleasure no matter how it is obtained. It is the definition of selfish hedonism.

The fact that few of these people expressed any guilt is quite shocking. There was a time before the crippling feel-good curfew of political correctness was imposed upon us when guilt was recognised as a valid and valuable human feeling. It is often proclaimed proudly in this country how we have shed our Catholic guilt.
Progress, perhaps; but am I alone in thinking that you should feel guilty about doing something wrong? Why shouldn’t you?
Justified guilt is one of the most fundamental checks on human conduct. It separates us from animals.

And unfortunately I personally know of too many examples of such transgressions to put its apparent prevalence solely down to sensationalist reporting.

Now some might say that it is simply unnatural and unfeasible to expect sustained monogamy from humans, who are after all burdened by a biological necessity to reproduce. I would disagree, however whether or not this is the case, reason lifts us above the animal kingdom and therefore we are obligated to do what is within our power to try and make good choices.

And let us make no mistake, to betray a spouse in the way that having an affair does must be a very serious matter.
When we enter a romantic relationship we are at our most vulnerable, because we are forced to remove the various facades and guards we create around ourselves that hide our most innermost thoughts, feelings, fears, desires and hopes.
In a relationship these closed doors are flung open for another person to see - you are reduced to your fundamentals - and this why such a betrayal is so utterly devastating.

As the writer James Baldwin so eloquently put it, “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within”.

And the anguish and pain felt by wronged spouse is not only damaging aspect of an affair.

Even if the wronged party never finds out, infidelity contributes to a broader culture of mistrust by propagating deception and dishonesty.

Creating an environment where infidelity is seen as commonplace, even acceptable, further disillusions anyone who is cynical about monogamy, and only makes it more difficult to have the confidence to open your self up in a relationship. In an almost comically tragic way, this culture probably adds to isolation and emotional distance among couples, thereby producing more unhappy relationships in which people feel the need to be unfaithful.

Compassion is required when discussing a subject as raw as this and I have no interest in unnecessarily pointing the finger at others. But just condemnation is also a form of compassion, and it must be asked, to what end does circumstance justify an action?

Many will say that if someone is unhappy in a relationship they effectively have no choice but to look elsewhere.
Yet there always is a choice. Infidelity can never be right since there is always another, albeit difficult, option; that is to leave the relationship. Ultimately this usually results in less pain and heartache for all involved and no deception is involved.

One lesson that history has taught us is that one cannot live two different contradictory lifestyles and expect to remain unscathed. In life, making one choice often closes the door to another and having the best of both worlds is not an option. Be it with celebrities, royalty or the working classes, the dangers of spreading oneself too thin in such matters are well-known. There is a reason for this and it is one which we should not forget.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hello and welcome fellow interneters.

So, I've just decided to start a blog. I always kind of felt weird about the idea, but then I figured that if I want to be a journalist and write for a living (which I do!) I should get writing and get it out there. I'm happy to hear anyones thoughts on any of the issues raised here, rational debate should always be welcomed!

Personally, I often feel that various sections of the media refuse to approach issues in a reasonable, analytical way and, that they are often all too afriad to rock the boat. Politcal correctness has been stifling debate on a whole range of issues for far too long.

At the same time, there are also figures in the media who have no shame in conducting their trade in completely unethical ways, showing little regard for the truth or a person's good name. With this in mind, this blog will serve as a platform for my views and opinions while striving towards fairness and accuracy - this doesn't mean however that I will be afraid to tell it as I see it.

I'm generally interested in social affairs, but I'll also put up general ramblings and more lighthearted stuff when the mood takes me.
That's my tuppenceworth for the moment!

Justice for immigrants is justice for Ireland

Whatever the strange force that dictates what events are of vital importance to us is, it is an unpredictable one, and one which is often not accountable to any notion of reason.

Once again, as another alarming example of dysfunctional multiculturalism presents itself, what we are shown by the media is merely the tip of the iceberg; a fraction of the vast largely hidden mass that is immigration.

Consequently, it was not widely reported several weeks ago how a 16-year-old Roma boy kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old Roma girl in order to consummate an arranged marriage that wasn’t honoured by the girl’s family. After the rape, the girl’s family subsequently accepted €10,000 by way of reparation and as a result, they no longer consider the ordeal to have been rape.

A crime this deplorable – made all the more heinous because of the girl’s age – would be expected to make big news, yet not so.

The girl’s age also brings into focus once again the recent controversies over the age of consent and statutory rape. While the Roma case involves full rather than statutory rape, and therefore no consent at all - as opposed to consensual sex that falls below the age of consent of 17 - it still holds relevance when we consider the possibility of arranged marriages, such as the one in this case. An underage girl may willingly - in one sense of the word – marry a boy because of coercive attempts by her family. This possibility seems to strengthen the case for a simple bar on under-age sexual activity, rather than a system where young people of similar of age who have sex are provisioned for.

While the story featured as a moderately sized article in the Independent, to the best of my knowledge it was completely absent from the Irish Times. More worryingly, however is the fact that I have not heard one commentator speak out about the issues raised by the story. Not one.

In addition, neither the Irish Immigrant Council, nor Pavee Point (two organisations that have a special interest in such areas), have spoken out about the issue, and this is nothing short of cowardly. One wonders had a Roma gypsy been raped by an Irish national, if these two organisation’s silence would have been quite so complete.

The severity of the crime however, is not the fundamental reason why the lack of comment has been so shocking.

What is most disturbing is the fact that it appears unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted for the crime and, crucially, the implied reasoning behind this.

With regard to the reparation payments, a senior gardai on the case was quoted as saying, "some Roma have their own customs when dealing these type of issues".

It is simply disgraceful that a member of the gardai could even suggest that there are alternative ways of dealing with criminal cases. Imagine a scenario where, after arriving at a disturbance at an Irish suburban estate, a garda was told by the locals that, “we have our own ways of dealing with things”. As any rationale and law-abiding person will know, there is only one way of dealing with a breach of the law, and that is through the law. To suggest for an instant, even in passing, that cultural allowances must be made for anyone, immigrant or otherwise, is appalling. As a just society, we owe it to the child brutalised to bring about justice, just as we owe it to society to protect our own citizens from any attempts to subvert the law. Black, white, brown or yellow, Irish law is Irish law.

Imagine the even more destructive chaos that would have ensued in the North if Protestants and Catholics had specific laws for themselves - a situation where an accident of birth decided your fate before the courts. Secular law and order has prevented complete implosion up there because an impartial (at least in theory) system treats everyone equally.

It is irrelevant if it is acceptable for these Roma to have child marriages, and it is irrelevant if it is acceptable for them to buy a rapist’s way out of facing justice.

They must follow the law of this land; there are no compromises, there are no exceptions.

Despite what some of the p.c police may say, it is perfectly reasonable and logical to expect immigrants to a country to adapt to its values, norms and laws, rather than the other way round. Quite why this viewpoint is disputed by anyone is beyond me.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams’ recent comments about how Britain should adopt elements of Sharia law is endemic of this current trend of pontificating on multicultural appeasement. In his recent speech on Sharia he was quoted a saying, that if, "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

Well actually, I can think of nothing more dangerous than abandoning that idea, one that has been a pillar of western democracy for a long, long time. It is simply ludicrous to suggest that we can have a workable society based on imported cultural and religious laws. Where exactly would this end? Does this mean for instance, that a Muslim should be able to decide that he or she would like to tried in a Jewish or Christian court or vice versa because the result may be more favourable to him or her? Or should you be tried depending on what religion you were born into? The whole concept is rather dangerous nonsense.

Are we to sacrifice every principle our society is based on in order to please people from other cultures? A well-known truth is that trying to accommodate all is tantamount to pleasing no one.

But like all difficult issues, no one wants to talk about the impact of immigration on Ireland and the challenges of integration. The all-encompassing blanket of silence we have wrapped ourselves in is warm and comforting. It seems that to engage with the subject of immigration, you risk running the gauntlet of political correctitude, where terms like “racist” and “bigot” are thrown about with abandon. Frighteningly, questioning the multicultural model can even be nothing short of dangerous, as Denmark’s immigration minister Rikke Hvilshoj discovered in 2005, when her house was set on fire in response to the tightening of Denmark’s immigration laws.

But we simply must talk about the issues raised by the Roma case and others, and their massive implications. And let us make no mistake, they are massive implications.

Few cases have highlighted in such a tragic and horrific way the problematic nature of the multi-cultural model and the challenges it presents. Here we have an ethnically distinct group of people that have certain cultural practices, which are incompatible with our own, and scandalously, the real possibility that a heinous crime will go unpunished seemingly - at least partly – on cultural grounds. The whirlwind of debate that this should have sprung up is somehow amiss and this cannot be a good thing.

Two things have to happen. First of all, a prosecution for this horrific crime must occur – a precedent has to be set, and justice must be done. Secondly, we need our media to be more daring, more dynamic, and less afraid of upsetting the liberal elite when it comes to discussing immigration. Wherever you stand on the subject, a rational and reasoned debate is what is owed to the public. The Dáil are not willing to open up this debate, so it is the media who must.

We must ask ourselves: Why is Ireland becoming more violent?

The brutal murder of two Polish nationals recently has rightly shocked the country as a whole and brought into focus yet again the growing trend of violent behaviour on our streets. The especially vicious nature of the attack - which involved one man being stabbed with a screw driver in the head and another in the throat – is particularly disturbing, as is the age of the suspected perpetrators, ranging from just 15 to 19 years of age.

Predictably, in the aftermath of this disgusting crime, various commentators have tried to explain the reasons for it, to put method to its mindless madness. The minister for justice has commented on the damaging effects of alcohol and how he intends to curtail its availability, while a lack of gardai and facilities for young people has been blamed by local politicians and residents as the root of the problem.

However we are losing sight of the core issue here; that is, how these young men were capable of such utterly extreme violence. What is the real underlining cause of such a disregard for human life that allowed teenagers - effectively children - stab two innocent men to death?

It cannot simply be alcohol or a lack of amenities, while the gardai are merely a deterrent to criminal behaviour, not shapers of moral being.

The vast majority of people would never perpetrate such a heinous act not matter how much alcohol they had consumed. Furthermore, focusing solely on the involvement of alcohol serves to almost abdicate responsibility from those involved. Let us remember that people committed this evil act, not alcohol.

As for facilities, surely young people had even less to do in the way of leisure in times past, before youth delinquency was such a rampant social cancer.

And while looking at licensing laws, amenities for young people, and garda numbers may indeed be worthy pursuits, they are easy answers for more difficult questions.

As is always the way in such cases, it is easier to legislate for an aspect of the problem rather than tackle its fundamental social cause.

So what is the cause of acts such as these? It is a difficult, multi-faceted question and one which is hard to answer, but we may speculate. Could it be poverty, the portrayal of violence in the media, or family breakdown? There is evidence to suggest that all of these factors have an influence on criminal and violent behaviour. But accepting the culpability of any of these variables forces us to revaluate the way we live and what we assume to be acceptable. They are uncomfortable explanations.

One telling comment came from an independent councillor, who said that one of the ring leaders of the gang of youths came from a “dysfunctional family”. One may wonder how many other such causes involve people from similar situations.

Organisations such as the
Iona Institute have sourced reams of evidence linking broken homes to criminal and violent behaviour, and as we all know the rates of single parenthood and divorce have sky-rocketed in the last few decades, so could we have part of our answer here?

At the very least there is a compelling case to suggest that it is a factor we cannot ignore.

The question of broken families or disadvantaged areas isn’t as clear-cut and easy to legislate for as the issue of alcohol control, or gardai numbers, but nonetheless has to be faced up to and tackled head-on, and in a way that avoids debilitating political correctness.

Uncomfortable questions need to be asked and we must not be afraid of asking them. Is it wholly desirable to have single parent homes? Don’t children need a father? Do we really care enough about poverty-stricken estates to help readjust the economic imbalance? Do we become desensitised to violence the more we see it on-screen?

I’m not sure if I know all the answers to these questions, so it would be naive and foolish to simply say that one or more of these factors were the sole root of the problem.

That been said, few in the mainstream media seem willing to evaluate their effects on society in any meaningful way. And few try and seek out what is that makes certain people act in the way they do. Yes, moods may be enhanced or aggravated, and young minds may be restless or bored; but these don’t account for a deficient conscience.

These problems must be looked at with compassion and measured criticism, but the objective truth must still be asserted without fear of upsetting the consensus. Let’s really tackle the cause of violence, even if it means raising our heads above the parapet.