datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Yet Another Think Piece

Something we don’t see enough of these days are think pieces on the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. Or more specifically, pieces on how these women are doing it wrong. So, I’m going to explain what the repealers are doing wrong and why they are making faux-repealers feel all jittery. Perhaps my unique male perspective will have an impact on female repealers and motivate them to do better. And I didn’t even refer to these women as ladies, so I think I might be able to win their trust. It’s important to speak their language.

To understand the Repeal movement, one has to examine its constituent parts. But as this is a think piece, policing the tone of the Repeal movement, I’m not going to bother my arse with that. I will instead target just one organisation within the movement. And as I happen to think I know a bit about them already I won’t need to research the innumerable other organisations that are campaigning to repeal the 8th Amendment. Economy of effort is a much-underappreciated skill these days.

Anyway, I’m going to have a go at the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). This is the group that runs the annual March for Choice protest. This group of volunteers somehow managed to get 40,000 people onto the streets of Dublin in support of its extremist agenda. But let’s not dwell on that unattributed success or the amount of work that went into getting that march organised. I am here to admonish them after all.

What is ARC’s extremist agenda? Abortion on demand. Yep, they believe a woman should retain control of her body at all times. This is, by definition, extremist, because the vast majority of Irish people only support a woman’s right to choose in special circumstances. This inconsistency, or hypocrisy if you will, has been designated the middle ground by those of us who write think pieces and is therefore beyond questioning by anyone, ever. To win any referendum on any topic, one must always pander to the having their cake and eating it too majority.

ARC, though rarely specifically named, is often criticised for making the cake havers and eaters uncomfortable. They insist on pointing out that philosophically, logically, ethically and biologically, a foetus is a foetus. Taken to its natural conclusion, allowing abortions in only certain circumstances means that the foetus doesn’t actually matter. What is being judged is the pregnant person. (Person?)

This is an emotional and moral sleight of hand designed to ease one’s discomfort at the idea that some women are having sex and possibly even enjoying it. If you do the crime then you must be prepared to do the time, is the value espoused by the majority, the middle ground, the non-extremists. The crime in this instance being, sex. The having of it. The possible even enjoyment of same. When an unwanted pregnancy is the result of good sex then that foetus acquires a special status that requires constitutional protection. This is the reality, yet ARC extremists continue to refuse to cater to this cohort of referendum deciders.

ARC supports all women in all their choices. That’s bad of them. This is permissive. The majority doesn’t know what permissive means but they know they don’t like it. Supporting all women, in all circumstances, means some women we disapprove of, not paying the price of our disapproval.

What ARC need to do is be more strategic. This is easy to do. Let me explain it for them. Simply throw several thousand of the women they support under a bus. Then get a nice haircut and politely ask that a few women, who pass the test of having suffered sufficiently for the majority’s satisfaction, please be allowed have an abortion here instead of in the UK. It’s not rocket science.

And anyway, in a few decades, there’s every chance the icecaps will have melted and we’ll all be dead anyway.

But now that I’ve explained how ARC can win a referendum they don’t want to win, I think it’s important to point out another major flaw in their campaign. They keep using politically correct language. They insist on reminding the majority about every single minority that is disproportionately affected by the 8th Amendment. Do I have to explain what’s wrong with this? The clue is in the term, minorities. Minorities are minorities for two reasons, first, there aren’t many of them and two, they spook the majority. The majority aren’t all that keen on trans men, asylum seekers, the disabled, the mentally ill and the poor. Yet, day in, day out, ARC rub the noses of the easily offended majority in their inclusivity. It’s a stunning level of contempt for long held, carefully nurtured and greatly valued prejudices.

I don’t expect to be thanked for my insights and unsolicited advice. I give both freely because as a man I think it is important to educate those with less understanding of the complicated world we live in. You may call it the wise man’s burden. I fully expect there to be some shrill pushback but I have no doubt the sisterhood will eventually understand that the time is yet not ripe for them to enjoy the freedoms I hardly notice I have. One day perhaps, but not today. And probably not tomorrow either. You’re welcome.

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On Being A Dickhead

Barry Walsh is a bit of a dickhead. Fortunately, this isn’t a crime. Who among us isn’t guilty of the occasional lapse into dickishness? That Barry lapses and stays lapsed isn’t necessarily the point. The point is he didn’t commit a crime. He spoke his mind and though his mind may be a small and grubby place, it’s his mind and he gets to vomit out its contents without fear of legal consequence.

And the thing is, he hasn’t and won’t face legal censure. His free speech is protected. It’s a wonderful thing, free speech. Even little men, with tiny personalities, can say what they want about whomever they want and not have to fear a knock at the door from the jackbooted agents of the State. Every Barry and even this particular Barry, is entitled to verbally abuse the women who remind him of his innate inadequacies. Free speech is indeed a wonderful thing.

The problem with free speech though, is that it only applies to legal consequences for things said. Nasty and pathetic comments are indeed protected by our State, but only in so far as the State doesn’t give a shit if you insist on being a dickhead. The State also doesn’t a shit if someone calls you out for being a dickhead.

That’s the thing about the State, it likes free speech because it means it doesn’t have to do anything about dickheads. The State also avoids having to define what being a dickhead actually is. And as what constitutes a dickhead is endlessly subjective, the State prefers to leave well enough alone. It prefers dickheads, however they are defined at any particular time, to sink or swim on their own.

This particular petty little gobshite verbally abused a number of women who weren’t impressed by his brand of dickishness. They decided his oeuvre required a pointed critique. Essentially, they fucked him up. And they fucked him up in a terribly devious way, they simply stood up to him. Nothing is more galling to the little man than a woman using her free speech, her strength and whatever other resources she can call on, to show that little man the evidence of his essential smallness. It’s a terrifying sight. Well, more funny and satisfying than scary, but you get my point.

Some may call this political correctness gone mad. Fuck them. Fuck them very much. This is far from political correctness. This is a simple example of a petty little man verbally abusing women who were in a position to fight back. Free speech would also have protected his right to verbally abuse women who didn’t have the power to fight back. And that is where political correctness comes in. The PC Brigade, bastards that they are, wish to radically change our values. They want it to be unthinkable for petty little men to verbally abuse women, in any and all circumstances. Even when those women do not have the power to fight back. I know, disgusting really.

Public life may have lost this little man forever. It’s unlikely. His brand of dickishness may well come back into fashion. Or he may actually take the time to examine his attitude towards women who disagree with him and grow the fuck up. I won’t hold my breath on that one.

The comforting thing, for me, about this little man and his ilk, is that I never have to worry about the little men. I’m a straight white man. I’m never the target of these little men. It would be a job of mere moments to alter my life so that I’d be entirely oblivious to the very existence of these petty men.

Even now I have to actively search for instances where little men verbally abuse people who don’t look like me. I’m never the target. I look like these little men. I sound like these little men. I pee like these little men.

And that’s the problem with political correctness. It makes not noticing feel a little like not noticing on purpose. This little man took on women who had the power to fuck him up. Political correctness is about supporting those who don’t have the power to fight back when the dickheads come after them.

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To My Hypothetical Son

I took the decision, many years ago, to not have children. Mostly because I’m a selfish pessimist who fully expects the world to end in flames and screams. But there’s another reason. The unspoken tension all prospective fathers of sons have. The conversation. That conversation.

The first issue is when. When to have that conversation. Does one decide the appropriate time based on age or size? Have you seen the size of young fellas these days? I don’t know what they’re being fed, but they are huge. Not too long ago one could wait to have that conversation late into the boy’s teens. No longer. They may not have the emotional equipment, but they have the size. And it’s the size that makes the conversation necessary.

I’ve imagined the conversation many times. Despite my surfeit of well-chosen and sensitive words, it does not go easy. I call him into my study. Yes, I have a study in this scenario. It’s a gorgeous study, all manly and booky. The desk is replete in wooded stereotypes. I love that desk as much as I love my hypothetical son.

I would have my son sit. He’ll know this is serious as I don’t usually allow him to sit. I’m surprisingly old-fashioned in hypothetical world. I watch fear and worry cross his face. What have I caught him doing? Which of his boyish schemes and misadventures is he being carpeted for? Will he finally be sent to military school? My hypothetical world does seem overly influenced by American films of an older vintage. This is very disappointing.

“Is there something amiss, Father.” Yes, he calls me father, what’s wrong with that?

I will look at him with something approaching sympathy on my face. This will confuse him as it is a look usually reserved for my dogs on those days we must visit the vet. Now he’s wondering if he’s dying. This irks me as obviously that would be a conversation his hypothetical mother would conduct.

“What age are you, Son?”

“I am thirteen, Father.” Notice he answers in full sentences. My hypothetical son is well raised.

“And what height are you?” I watch him do some mental calculations. He is of course metric while I retain my quaint reliance on imperial. It’s eccentric and endearing. I said it is eccentric and endearing.

“I am six-foot one, Father.” He’s a fucking monster.

“Yes, you do appear to be ridiculously tall which is why we must have this conversation.” He nods as he adopts the pose of attentive and dutiful son. “What know you of women, Son?” Ha, that rattles him. He was not ready for that line of attack. Damn, I must remember this isn’t an attack. It’s an imparting values and knowledge conversation. “It’s ok, Son, I have no doubt you are conversant with the biological facts and have even begun some practical forays into that world. This more concerns your awareness of yourself.”

My hypothetical son steels himself, his openness to my words writ large on his honest face. My pride in my hypothetical Aragorn is boundless. Well that’s what I wanted to call him but his hypothetical mother shut that shit down early doors. I considered Frederick as an alternative, but I did not want a hypothetical son of mine called, Fred.

“Tell me, Son, are you aware that women are scared of men?”

“What?”

I also considered Alexander, but only in Star Trek is that name not reduced to the sobriquet, Alex. I do not like Alex.

“Yes, most women, in almost every situation are just a little sacred and sometimes a lot scared of men.”

“Why?”

I considered Edward too, but they tend towards unhappy kings. Fine name though it is. I eventually settled on Richard. It’s a fine name, Richard. And, the hypothetical mother of my hypothetical son did agree that in consideration of the proffered compromise, that she would stab anyone who dared shorten, Richard. The hypothetical mother of my hypothetical son is hard-core.

“Experience.”

Though I will let you all into a little secret, as a hypothetical father I often imagine Richard as Aragorn. I suspect that as a hypothetical father I look for vicarious glory through my hypothetical son.

“I don’t understand, Father.”

Oh, how I hate this conversation.

“Without wishing to be indelicate, I assume you have noticed the girls your age experiencing some profound physical changes in the last year or so.” He has the good grace to blush rather than demur. “Yes. And as you have noticed, so too has every man they have contact with. And this is where it gets unpleasant, Son. Many of those men will have taken the liberty to point out those changes, in lurid detail, to those girls. Men of all ages, men known to them and unknown to them, of all stations. And repeatedly.”

I watch his face, a mixture of shock, disgust and a soupcon of recognition. I must wonder what level of guilt he may share with these men of low morals. I will not ask, this is for the conscious his hypothetical mother and I have instilled in him. I must hope our hypothetical efforts are not found wanting. Who’d be a parent, even a hypothetical one?

“I ask you to further consider this; if men feel entitled to comment on the bodies of children, what leap is there to assuming a right of access to those bodies?” I watch him put his privately educated mind to work on this simple but monstrous proposition. Yes, my hypothetical son is privately educated. Come at me.

I watch horror dawn on my hypothetical son’s face. “Do all girls and women experience this?”

“It’s very ubiquity can make it seem invisible.”

“What can I do?”

My hypothetical son is an idealist. Well he’s thirteen, so I have high hopes he will grow out of it, but for now I must endure his doe-eyed belief in hope. But I tire of this conversation. I’ve alerted him to the reality he need not endure. My job is done.

“I don’t know what you can do, Son, but I will leave you with a scenario to ponder. It is dark, you are walking down a street, you notice a woman is walking several yards ahead of you. What do you?”

I move to return to my reading. We are in my study after all.

“I offer her my protection of course.”

I feel vomit in my throat. My hypothetical son is a gobshite. “Why is heaven’s name would you do that?” Oh no, there’s earnestness on his big dumb face. I’m really glad now his hypothetical mother prevented me from naming him, Aragorn. “What would possess you to approach a strange woman on a dark street and presume to speak with her? Have you not heard a single thing I’ve said?”

“But she thinks I might hurt her, I have to let her know I would rather die than hurt her. Not all men are predators.” I wonder if my hypothetical son’s hypothetical mother can be blamed for this. I quickly review my parenting over the previous thirteen years. I see him for breakfast every morning, I allow him visit my study every night before his bedtime and listen to him describe his day. He goes to a private school, paid for by his hypocritical mother, I even wear one of those silly hats at his birthday parties. No, I’ve been the perfect hypothetical dad. I even used the word ‘dad’ in my review.

But then my attitude softens. It is neither unnatural nor uncommon for little boys to want to be thought well of. That egocentric hypersensitivity is something boys do grow out of. I have no doubt that by his next birthday, and the trial of those god-awful hats, he will have realised how indescribably ignorant it is to think one’s need for approval trumps a woman’s hard earned right to fear a strange man on a dark street.

I send my hypothetical son from my study with what I think is an appropriately affectionate pat on the shoulder. I will have to write a report on the meeting for his hypothetical mother. She can be quite pedantic about my contributions to her task of raising a hypothetical son. At least now she will know that Richard (still possibly Aragorn) requires a crash course on not thinking his pathetic need for approval is of equal importance to a woman fearing an attack. I don’t know how she will do that but as I’ve already lost interest in this hypothetical son, it’s no longer my problem.

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Rational, Sort Of

I like to think of myself as rational. I know, rationally speaking, that I’m not rational. But it is a delusion vital to my image of myself and how I perceive the world. I insist on believing that when the facts change on a topic, so too will my mind. My reaction to the Fianna Fáil caused recession went a long way to propping up my delusion. Most of my adult life, I have been on the right of the political spectrum. I’ve even flirted with libertarianism. I was a member of the Progressive Democrats. There were a couple of years there, in the noughties, when I was feeling pretty vindicated. Taxes were low, the economy was flying, my wages were up, the weather seemed better, I didn’t have ear hair, it was a good time.

Of course, what I didn’t realise at the time was that there can never be a positive outcome when one part of a government is busy reducing taxes while the other part of that government is increasing spending. I was an idealist. I wanted the State reduced because I thought that humans were quite good and just needed more freedom so that they may flourish. Yet I still manged to maintain the delusion of rationality. Humans are weird.

I confused reduced taxation with a reduced State. It never occurred to me that with my wages going up and ever-increasing job opportunities (I worked in the Public Sector after all) that perhaps the State wasn’t being reduced, only its access to the resources needed to maintain a growing State, was being reduced. Here’s where I say hindsight is a great thing, but bloody hell, what the fuck was I thinking? I even bought a house, less than a year before the crash. Rational, my arse.

So, the crash happened. The PDs disbanded themselves and I had a lot of thinking to do. I joined Fine Gael. What? I didn’t say I was good at thinking. In mitigation, I will say that part (and only part) of my motivation in joining Fine Gael was the idea that Fianna Fáil needed to be crushed beyond all hope of recovery. I assumed that my fellow humans would see why this was necessary and FF would disappear. The stage would be set for a proper left-right contest between FG and Labour.

It hadn’t occurred to me that everyone else was as delusional as I am. There’s every chance that Fianna Fáil will lead the next government. And Labour spent five years in power doing everything it could to alienate anyone and everyone who looked to them to lead the left. And without noticing, I got old. I seem to be part of the shrinking demographic that remembers the blood on Sinn Féin’s hands. I still had to do a lot of thinking.

Thinking is hard. A rational person is supposed to be good at it, but I’d stopped thinking the moment I assumed I’d found the answers. I want an ideology, or religion if you prefer, so that I have at least some pointers when forming an opinion on every-fucking-thing I encounter.

I’ve had to look at some of the foundational values that guided me down the blind-alley of being right wing on the economy and left wing on social issues.

As ever, I looked first at what I wanted for me. Freedom, protection and support were, to my surprise, still to the core of what I wanted from the world. I remain, it seems, a liberal to my fingertips. That surprised me and also rattled me a bit. Everything I’d believed in had proven to be pants. Humans, given more freedom, were actually selfish and thick. Capitalism was beyond irrational. Equality of opportunity is unattainable because it is a lie. Parochialism, its horrible child, nationalism, and their crazy cousin religion, are more important now than they ever were. Science is losing out to charlatism. And in the face of Climate Change; nothing but Healy-Raes.

But I still want freedom, protection and support. What has changed? Nothing much, though to me, it feels dramatic. But rationally speaking, it really isn’t. I’ve had to readjust my attitude to the State.

Nothing, and it still pains me to admit this, can be achieved without the support, be it tacit or active, of the State. Only it, the big, dumb, self-serving, behemoth that it is, has the reach and resources to elicit change.

And change is needed. The world is unquestionably better now than it was fifty years ago. But is it better than it was ten years ago? Stupid is on the rise and so are the oceans. But I’m a liberal. If the majority of the world’s individuals decide that the sacrifices required to combat Climate Change are just too big, then so be it. But the very least the State can do is inform everyone what the stakes are?

For the first time in my life, I agree with the idea of increased taxation. For both ethical and practical reasons, I do not think it sustainable that I’m well-off compared to so many others, here and world-wide. It staggers me that the capitalism I supported, has gifted wealth on an unimaginable scale to such a tiny few. It staggers me that when I worry about the cost of going to the dentist, our Taoiseach still thinks tax cuts will address that concern. It staggers me that we treat property rights (and I’m a firm believer in property rights) as the Americans treat guns. It staggers me that one can still accurately predict an individual’s health, wealth and time of death, based on where they were born. It staggers me that in this scientific age we still can’t convince people of the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. It staggers me that nothing has changed since the Great Recession.

It staggers me that despite every attempt at a cynicism inspired insouciance, I still give a fuck about a species I no longer think highly of. It’s incredibly frustrating. The one thing I do know for a rational fact, is that I’m wrong more often than I’m right. And that is the only hope I can cling to. It’s why I remain politically active. It’s why I still write. It’s why I still try to work out what I think. Why I still read and talk and listen. Why I try to act as I imagine a rational being would act, despite knowing I’m still a collection of prejudices, unconscious biases and selfish desires, all wrapped in a ridiculous beard. But fuck me it’s hard to hold on to that hope in a world full of flag wavers, homeopaths, leaders who refuse to learn and people who insist on being led.

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At Least The Pic Is Interesting

I haven’t written anything for over a month. I haven’t been able to bring myself to express or create. I have encountered and am enduring the type of vicissitudes that do not reduce my pleasure in using the word, vicissitudes. But they have left me incapable or indeed unwilling to leave my own head. A week ago, I deleted all the computer games from my PC. Last night I moved my desk and changed my chair. This is what I have been reduced to. Today I am lapsing into a ‘woe-is-me’ blogpost in the hope it might shake me from this ennui. I need to escape this enervating malaise. I am hoping that using words like ennui and enervating will remind me of the simple joy there is in words.

I have even tried journaling. Pen and paper to unload the thoughts that are building and becoming more confused. The emotions that need to be expressed. The frustrations that need safe passage. But it turns out that writing is writing and I haven’t been able to write.

I write because I wish to engage with the world. Engage so that I might better understand it, understand my place in it and ultimately to shape both it and me so that we better fit each other. And I write because I am an ego with a beard who must be read. In this instance it may be my fathomless ego that might rescue me from this rut. I miss being read a near imperceptibly amount less than I miss writing. And it is an itch that can be easily scratched. One has to merely write and someone will read it, even if it is only my wife who will unavoidably see the words as she proofs this post.

I merely have to write. The words are there. The desire is there. All that prevents me from transferring that will into action is an inescapable feeling that the more I seek to understand the world the more I wish to disengage from it. Retreat from its blistering stupidity, viciousness and the inevitable disaster that is our species. It’s not a very original thought, having one’s curiosity met with a handful of slime, but it’s new to me. I see in myself so many of the stereotypes one associates with men my age. I get increasingly frustrated with the petty stupidities; the poorly parked car, the cyclist without high-viz, the pedestrian on a country road at night, deranged buffoons with nuclear weapons and homeopathy. I begin to doubt the merit in trying to know more when there is all this nonsense to swim through.

But that stupidity has always been there. We are an incredibly stupid species. What has changed, is me. I am older, my knees hurt more, my hearing isn’t what it once was, I think about death less as an abstract phenomenon but as my inevitable future, I’m a bit more cynical and I worry about how little I really am and how big the stupid really is. And I’m feeling sorry for myself. Middle aged straight white man who simply wants everyone to see the world as he sees it so that we may all enjoy paradise.

I’m feeling sorry for myself and it is difficult to engage with the world when one is feeling sorry for oneself. I am feeling sorry for myself because I am old. I am feeling sorry for myself because I do not like my station in life. I am feeling sorry for myself because I remember a time when I was optimistic. And I am feeling sorry for myself because I don’t know if I’ve lost that optimism or have temporarily misplaced it. I am feeling sorry for myself because I am feeling sorry for myself and I am reduced to writing about how sorry I am for myself. And I am feeling sorry for myself because my ego demands that I be read so I am writing about how sorry I am feeling for myself. And I am feeling sorry for myself because you are reading this. But I am writing and you are reading. So, there’s that.

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Risotto

I’m extravagantly proud of my risotto. So proud I suspect there may be something wrong with it. Or me. Is my uncultured palette just easily pleased? It’s by far the most complex dish I can make. It has ten, yes ten, different ingredients. And yes, I’m including water as an ingredient. Ten is bigger than nine. That’s science.

I don’t make it very often. Rarely more than once a month. Paula loves it. She literally licks the plate. And I use ‘literally’ as the gods intended it to be used. I wouldn’t cook it for anyone else though. I came to food late in life, something I entirely blame my mother for. I grew up liking bland and overcooked. I was militant in my embrace of bland and overcooked. It was friends made as an adult who introduced me to joyous food. I’m not cooking for them. They’ve had too much of a head start.

If pushed, I’d do a roast chicken. With a modicum of care and minimal embellishment, a roast chicken is beyond reproach. And that’s it. But Paula literally licks the plate clean when I give her my risotto. Paula has been depressed for some time now. I get to play the role of platitudinous bystander while the centre of my world suffers. Just waiting the requisite number of weeks to see if these meds are the correct meds.

I remember the evening I learned the basics of my dish. And I remember the first time I ate risotto. They were different evenings and the learning came before the eating. Sometime before in fact.

I acquired this dish, about fifteen years ago, from an Australian lady. I can’t remember her name but I remember the evening she cooked that risotto, as if it were yesterday. And no, it wasn’t like that at all. We were colleagues and we were in work. We were Care Workers dealing with a family in a very stressful environment and she decided that a risotto was exactly what that evening needed. I’d never even heard of risotto. That it was essentially rice, boiled a lot, did not inspire me. But it was a stressful evening and she’d decided risotto was what was needed. I was directed to cut and slice and crush and stir. Always stir. Never stop stirring. It’s a delicate business this risotto, an overlong pause and it will surely burn.

She didn’t speak like that. But I like to pretend she did. I didn’t taste the risotto I’d helped to make. It was rice after all and why would one voluntarily eat rice? I was not a curious person back then. But I do remember feeling good making it. That risotto didn’t have ten ingredients, even including water, but there was cutting, slicing, crushing and stirring. That evening became less stressful.

Paula has bipolar disorder. We don’t say ‘Paula is bipolar’ because she is not her illness. Though we do say she is Coeliac because who the fuck cares about Coeliac Disease? Yes, Revenue care, so we keep the gluten-free receipts. And there’s an entire industry devoted to pushing the ‘gluten-free lifestyle’ on the kind of buffoons who will pay extra to eat less palatable food because they believe in panaceas. And yes, I much prefer discussing Coeliac Disease because it does not scare me. Neither does it make me feel inadequate or anxious. And I don’t have to stand idly by while she suffers.

The first time I ate a risotto was in an Italian restaurant in Wicklow Town. I was off cigarettes at the time, so I had serviceable taste buds. I was also determined to impress my foodie friends with my new found adventurous spirit. It was a seafood risotto. It did not impact on me the same way as the first time I tried an Indian Curry did, but it’s the only eating experience I’ve had that comes close. Except perhaps for my lamb flavoured mash. You really can’t believe lamb flavoured mash until you’ve tried it.

Paula is not bipolar but she has it and it is for life. And as I’m infinitely self-centred it is now my bipolar disorder and I will be dealing with it for the rest of my life. What do I do in the face of such a sneaky incurable disease? How do I stave off the anxiety, the suffocating inadequacy, the episodes, weeks long episodes, of watching the centre of my world suffer? How do I stand idly by?

I once hated onions, spring onions and garlic. I feared chillies, disdained rice and was appalled by soft cheeses. Did I mention I blame my mother for this? I won’t have responsibility laid at the feet of culture. I used to delight in burnt steak. Now I cut a single onion, slice several spring onions and chillies, crush half a bulb of garlic and boil the kettle. And it makes me so happy. Fry them for a few minutes and stir chicken stock (gluten-free of course) into the water. Then there’s the Arborio rice. Half a cup thrown in and fried for another precisely two minutes.

The only issue I ever have with this dish is the amount of chilli. I like lots, Paula likes a little. We compromise and I do it her way so I don’t come across as the dick I truly am. Despite the bipolar thingy and the depression Paula is never not rational. She saw me fall apart due to her previous bout of depression and has had to hold my hand through this one. It’s a little unfair of her to be able to deal with her crushing despair and a husband being crushed by that despair. Yet that is what she does, as I stand idly by, uttering blandishments. What else is there?

But she does love my risotto. And risotto is a fiddly bastard to make. So, I make risotto. A promise of a risotto for every day she is depressed. And because its her risotto I add mushrooms. I can’t eat mushrooms. I love them, but I can’t eat them. So, I add thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms at the beginning. They are the true tenth ingredient. Did I forget to mention the smoked rashers? I did. I do that sometimes and it’s very irritating. I’d heard the term lardons once and hadn’t a clue what they were. Someone told me they were basically little bits of bacon/ham or some such. I decided they should be in my risotto.

Take six smoked rashers (go for a brand, it’s a cure for depression, anxiety and a man’s inadequacy after all) and cut them into little pieces. Put them in the oven for twenty minutes or so at 180 degrees Celsius.

The alchemy begins after the rice has been fried for exactly two minutes. Add a quarter of the chicken stock and keep stirring. I always set my timer for five minutes, but the liquid always disappears before that time. Soaked up by the now increasingly tumescent rice. Then add another quarter, then the third and then the fourth. Keep the heat at a simmer and keep stirring. I’ve never once burned a risotto. I do not know what it looks, smells or tastes like, when burned. I may acknowledge scientific curiosity as the font of all that is worthy about our species, but I’m not burning a risotto. She licks the plate.

I don’t have to cook it every day of this bout. Every second day is sufficient. Half goes in the fridge. And on the days I don’t cook, I get to watch her heat it and eat it and I know I’ve done something. I’ve not stood idly by.

Once all the liquid is absorbed add the rashers. Turn off the heat and add half a portion of feta cheese, cubed. The extent to which the feta dissolves in entirely up you. Paula likes it a bit over half melted. And she licks the plate. And as I cook and as I watch her eat, my anxiety, my inadequacy, my helplessness, all feel that little bit less burdensome. And I imagine I’m helping. And she knows I’m imagining I’m helping and that’s really the best we can do while we wait for the meds to kick in.

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Weekly Links #27

Another week. Wow, they do go by quite quickly these days. Anyway, the twitterverse has, as always, provided me with manifold distractions from the inexorable march of time. The first link it to an interview with Aziz Ansari. It is, to say the least, a tad disquieting. His eschewing of all not only social media, but the internet itself, is compelling. Much food for thought.

There’s also an update on the Neymar situation, which I’d brought up in a previous Weekly Links. As usual, there’s a lot of nerdy stuff. This is a wonderful time to like nerdy TV. In fact this is the most nerd heavy Weekly Links I’ve ever compiled. I fear the world is becoming so unpleasant that this retreat to fantasy is a necessary tactic in protecting my mental health. Or perhaps fantasy is the most palatable way of undertaking the nonsensical state of our planet? Either way, there’s a lot of the nerd this week.

And as always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“But there’s another possible explanation, too. Before meeting Aziz, I received a tip that he’d unplugged from everything but text messaging. He’s off social media. He deleted the Internet browser from his phone and laptop. No e-mail, either. Technologically speaking, he’s living in, like, 1999. ” Aziz Ansari on Quitting the Internet, Loneliness, and Season 3 of Master of None

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“It’s neither. The most-coveted individual honour in football is decided by financial journalists who might never watch a football match all year. It’s the Forbes List of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes, which the American money magazine has published every year since 2012, and when we tally the football players who have made it to the top of that most-exclusive list, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo 2, all other footballers 0.” Neymar intent on being best-paid if not the best

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“That’s right, Discovery is introducing a genetic reason for the ridges. Traditionally, they’ve been viewed as part of each Klingon House’s lineage, showing other Klingons what families each person belongs to. While that’s still true, Page adds that the ridges have extra-sensory receptors, running from the top of their heads to their backs.” Klingon Head Ridges Will Finally Be Explained onStar Trek: Discovery, with Science

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“This is not surprising. The Great War has always been a publishing phenomenon. Around 25,000 books and scholarly articles have been written on it since 1918. The arguments have been conducted with forensic intensity and unwavering moral passion. The fascination with the war, which exerts its grip most powerfully in the “Anglosphere” countries, is justified.” Still in the grip of the Great War

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“One of the episode’s most stunning elements had nothing to do with the dragons. For years, we’ve been hearing about the battle prowess of the Dothraki riders—and now, for the first time, we’ve seen it. It was Thrones horse coordinator Camilla Naprous who came up with the idea of having the screamers stand up on their mounts as they charged the Lannister forces.” Game Of Thrones: Behind the Scenes of That Record-Breaking Fire Battle

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“During the panel, it was mentioned that the original plan for the show was to go out and explore the rest of the fleet a lot more than the show actually ended up doing. “Well, part of the pitch was, ‘Here’s this whole civilian fleet,’ and TV was much more episodic than it is now,” said Moore. “So part of the way to sell the network on what we were doing was, ‘Don’t worry, there will be all of these individual stories.” Ron Moore and David Eick on Their Original Battlestar Galactica Pitch and the Problem With Streaming

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“Listen, before you angrily @me, hear me out. I can already see all of you Next Generation folks yelling at me through the computer screen, but here’s the thing: when was the last time you rewatched The Next Generation? Because I’ve recently rewatched all of the series (save Enterprise—I don’t hate myself that much), and I hate to break it to you, but TNG does not hold up as well as you remember it holding.” Which Star Trek Is the Best Star Trek? Let’s Settle This Once and for All

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Weekly Links #26

Another week and more links from the Great Link that is the twitterverse. You can have no idea how smugly satisfied I am by that reference.  Unless, of course, you get the allusion. Then you too can feel the smug. This week’s links manage to combine sex and nerdism. Not something that happens very often. And a wonderful piece on why it feels impossible to explain to someone why they should care about poor/sick people.

Writing goes well. Am now over half way through the first draft. The World continues to fall apart, but that’s not new. But at least its falling apart in this era pf peak-TV. Just remember, correlation is not causation.

And as always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“But their union leaves open a lot of questions, especially since Grey Worm, from a very young age, has been conditioned — as are all Unsullied — not to have empathy, fear, or feelings(especially sexual feelings, which his castration was supposed to extinguish).” 6 Sexperts on Grey Worm and Missandei’s Future As a Couple

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“Not only do characters on Star Trek explicitly have sex, but their sexual relationships create important storylines. The obvious example is the classic original series episode “Amok Time,” in which Spock has to fuck or he will literally die. Many fans consider this to be one of the best episodes of all of Star Trek.” The Real Difference Between ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ is Sex

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“Feeding on this tension, science fiction and futurism entered their “golden age” by the 1950s and ’60s, both predicting the bright future that would replace the Cold War. Technological advances would automate society; the necessity of work would fade away. Industrial wealth would be distributed as a universal basic income, and an age of leisure and vitality would follow.” ‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism

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“I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you). I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.” I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People

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“The proper use of the word ‘fascist’ has been stripped away, meaning reduced to a verbal tick. “You fascist” and the no less unimaginative “You fascist pig” are self-reverential: you don’t know what the target of your abuse really is, but you’re sure it’s terrible, fearsome and antithetical to your own values. But if you can’t dissect the opposition, what is it you stand for?” Umberto Eco Lists The 14 Common Features of The Eternal Fascist

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“Politics, in other words, did not reinforce my identity, but helped me reach beyond it. If I was growing up today, though, it is quite possible that my political education would be much narrower, because it would be shaped primarily by my personal identity and experience, rather than providing a means of transcending it; because all politics has, for so many, come to be seen as identity politics.” NOT ALL POLITICS IS IDENTITY POLITICS

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“The use of these images in their campaign is, to me, wrong. As a parent, it should be my choice as to when and how I have conversations with my child about difficult issues. My son is three. His world is small and insular, and for the moment, that is how I want to keep it. He knows nothing but love and compassion, the most difficult things he knows is not getting his way at bedtime, or when asking for more treats.” Youth Defence tactics and the Abortion Debate

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Uneasy Liberal Alert

Kevin Myers has managed to become an international news story. Free Speech is being threatened. So obviously this liberal has to give his two European cents worth.

I have a complicated relationship with Kevin Myers. Before I went to college, in 1993, my house would get a few tabloids on a Sunday. That was my family’s entire interaction with print media. I would look at them for the sport and give a surreptitious glance or seven at the scantily clad women. In college however, one of my lecturers insisted we read the Irish Times as part of the course work. Thus, was my introduction to the intricacies of folding a big paper.

To this day one of my favourite memories of college, is lunchtime and a group of us bunched around a copy of the IT, completing the crossword. I quickly began to enjoy reading the Irish Times. For one thing, the sports coverage was far superior to what I’d been accustomed to. It never occurred to me that a staid broadsheet would have better and more interesting things to say about sport than what were basically lads-mags touted as newspapers. I think this is when and where I learned snobbery too.

Over the next several years I began to deviate from my ‘sports section first’ approach to IT reading. Three or four days a week my first port of call was Kevin Myers’ ‘An Irishman’s Diary.’ I loved it. He managed to appeal to every single thought and concern I had about issues it just didn’t feel safe to discuss. He took on Sinn Féin/IRA, Fianna Fáil, the brand of blind nationalism that passed for serious thought at the time, our complicated relationship with the UK in general and England in particular, the apparent anti-Semitism that animated much of the anti-Israel sentiment of that era and he introduced me to Patrick O’Brian. For Patrick O’Brian alone, I adored him.

I read him religiously. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, but something changed. I don’t know if it was him or me, but I remember trying to see the point behind his ‘mothers of bastards’ column and not only could I not see a point, I wasn’t all that motivated to find one. It just seemed so needlessly self-indulgent. Needlessly offensive. Needlessly directed at a group who did not need the extra scorn.

I’m a liberal and in my not too crystal-clear memory, I remember him as once being a liberal. And a brave one too. I don’t know who changed, him or me, but even his defence of Israel began to grate. I’m 100% for its right to exist. I won’t be moved on that. But somehow this defence stopped being about defending that right and more about excusing criminality. It became, for want of a better description, an identity. An identity that blinded him and his ilk to the responsibilities of friendship.

I simply stopped reading his columns. I’d see his picture in whatever newspaper he was writing for at the time and feel a mix of sadness and nostalgia. He was my first columnist. I don’t know who changed, but all I began to see was bitterness, entitlement, certainty and a lack of empathy.

But I’ve never questioned his right to wound with words. That is not to say I’m dismayed he has lost his current job. I believe in Free Speech, not in tenured platforms. If it wasn’t all so sad and pathetic I would delight in the irony of his dismissal. The irony of losing his job because of an arrogant belief in his right to delve into anti-Semitic tropes to bolster a sexist argument. I would bet my house he isn’t in anyway anti-Semitic but perhaps he has written too many self-indulgent columns to find a less self-indulgent way to simply be wrong about women.

I have written several boring posts about my struggle to combine my belief in both unfettered Free Speech and Political Correctness. And I fear this one has already become another one of those posts. I’m one of those annoying centrist liberals so beloved of Left and Right, so I have to explain why I’m comfortable with Myers’ sacking and why I’m also uncomfortable. And yes, I see the memes ridiculing this liberal prevarication too. They’re only partly funny because they’re only party true. Well, sometimes entirely true as well.

What function does Free Speech serve? I can think of three functions. First it ensures that no idea, belief, or value is free from examination, interrogation and mockery. Anyone who has lived on this island for a few decades and has given even a cursory glance at this island’s history must see the necessity of that. Secondly, it ensures that no one in power is ever comfortable. Our laws against defamation have stymied this most vital function of Free Speech. I cannot remember a time in this country where the powerful have ever felt anything but comfortable. The third function is perhaps a bit more ephemeral. It is the recognition that speaking one’s mind without fear of the State knocking on your door is a good in of itself.

In this conception of Free Speech there isn’t any apparent stricture against ‘punching down.’ That is its greatest weakness. I haven’t the intellect or education to imagine a form of words that ensures unfettered Free Speech but also ensures it isn’t used to abuse unmarried mothers, AIDS victims, Africans, gay men, Palestinians and any other vulnerable group Myers’ made a living attacking. Those strictures, if they existed, would need to be written into law, policed by the State and I’m already getting all faint at the power someone is going to have over what I may and may not say.

Yet his words and the words of those like him, do material harm. I just cannot square that circle.

Yet, in this instance, there was no squaring of any navel gazing liberal’s circles. He lost his job because, capitalism. The State, good taste, empowered minorities, basic decency nor solidarity, played any part in his dismissal. He threatened his employers’ bottom line, so he went. We have capitalism to thank for his being fired. We also have capitalism to thank for the fact he has made a successful living saying much worse things for several years now. He lost his job because he delved into lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes, which risked financial penalties for his employers. He did not lose his job for using lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes to make a grossly sexist argument.

He won’t be unemployed for long. He’s probably already writing his next column for his next employer.

I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know how to create a law that protects minorities but not orthodoxies. But I am even more discomforted by the fact that Myers’ has such lucrative appeal. There is a market for his kind of anti-liberal, both pseudo (and anti) intellectualist, faux-common-sense take on the ever-increasing complexity and careful use of language demanded of us by this multicultural world. This world where the certainties of the past are no longer given their due deference.

The market for his brand of illiberalism is increasingly febrile and well paid. He remains free to pander to those who feel left behind and confused. Free to communicate back to them their own prejudices and fears. I’m a Free Speech absolutist. My response to his snide hate should be to call for him to be taken on, fought to a stand-still with better ideas, more skilfully communicated, for him to be eviscerated with sharp words. But I know that’s just bullshit. I’m a Free Speech absolutist and I have absolutely no idea how to stop someone making money out of attacking those more vulnerable than me.

So yes, this liberal is troubled by the dismissal of a writer from a major newspaper. He didn’t find himself out of fashion. He didn’t find himself suddenly irrelevant. He just used a few ill-advised words to justify his peevish hate. If he’d expressed his peevish hate with different words he’d still have his job. So yes, this liberal is troubled. Perhaps the memes are right after all.

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Getting Old

Getting older is a weird experience. I’m not exactly a fan of the process, but there are aspects I quite like. It is a strange amalgam of little humiliations, bouts of terror and ever fewer fucks to give.

It was my hair that first decided that what I really needed was a bout of existential angst with a side order of mortification. I was getting my hair cut and the barber asked if I wanted my ears seen to. There’s no coming back from that. Once a man reaches the age of ear hair, there will also be nostril hair and errant eyebrow hair. I know many older men who ignore this hirsute horseman of the apocalypse. They will sport bushy ears and bushy brows. I’m not one of them.

I wasn’t concerned when my beard went grey. I actually like it. But when I began to notice grey in my hair I needed to sit down. When the hair down below began to grey, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t mind that my shoulders have decided to go full bear, but a single, inexplicably long hair on my forearm makes me want to go all Phantom of the Opera.

I’ve begun to see evidence of sagging. It upsets me. Yet my body confidence is higher now than it was when I was a six-pack sporting youth. That well-toned young man viewed public and/or inadvertent nudity with absolute horror. This fat hairy carcass of a man could not care any less. I don’t know if that’s because I am a creepy old fuck or because my body is now less a platform for my cock and more a shambling collection of frailties, oddities and gross deterioration. More deserving of pity than derision or even worse, judgment.

As my skin sags, it also thickens. The stuff I once sweated like public speaking, interacting with bureaucracy, speaking to strangers, speaking to women, trying anything new, admitting I’m wrong or apologising, no longer stump me. I still hate each and every one of them, but I now know that what I’m feeling at any one moment doesn’t really matter. In a minute or two I’ll be feeling something else. Just dive in and get it over with. Though I still can’t deal with actually jumping into cold water.

I play soccer every Wednesday. And I hurt every Thursday and Friday. When I’m chasing after someone, a part of my brain remains the young fleetfooted prick I once was. He’s already caught, dispossessed and ran fifty metres the other way with the ball, while I feel like I’m running through treacle. Since I began playing with this group, at least half a dozen members have had to quit due to wear and tear, niggling injuries and heart problems. Getting old. My right knee has been hurting me for two weeks. I’m determined to ignore it.

Every time I feel anything in my chest my first thought inevitably goes to heart attack. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t remember I am now nearer to the end than I am to the beginning. It’s terrifying. It is liberating. Procrastination becomes something I actively try to wrestle with. I don’t always win, but the stakes get higher with every new grey hair I find so I have to try.

My daydreams are becoming less fantastic. I dream of writing novels. I sometimes slip into dreams of successful novelist, but now, with time no longer on my side, I mostly dream of just writing novels. I am now always aware of time passing. It’s terrifying but it focuses the mind. I’d give anything to have the body I once had. But I wouldn’t swap places with that callow gobshite for all the dark haired covered muscles in the world.  Though for hairless ears…

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